Australia, France sign military access agreement

Australia and France have recently made a significant commitment to each other, promising “enhanced” access to their respective military bases and training facilities. This marks a clear departure from the tensions that emerged in the aftermath of the Aukus pact. The agreement, outlined in a signed “roadmap,” entails several key points that signal a reset in bilateral relations.

Under this agreement, France will enjoy increased access to Australian defense facilities, reflecting a collaborative effort to strengthen military ties. The two nations also plan to engage in more complex joint military training activities and enhance intelligence-sharing efforts. Simultaneously, Australia is set to gain more access to French defense facilities across the expansive Indo-Pacific region. The roadmap emphasizes the goal of facilitating a “more sustained Australian presence in priority areas of operation,” underlining the strategic significance of this collaboration.

Crucially, the increased reciprocal access to military facilities is expected to rely on existing legal frameworks, highlighting the intention to navigate these collaborations within established international norms and regulations. The plans were announced following discussions between Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Penny Wong, and her French counterpart, Catherine Colonna, in Canberra.

Wong emphasized the importance of this agreement, describing it as a crucial component of what she referred to as a “reset” in the relationship between the two nations. Colonna, humorously noting their task to “rebuild, reset, use whatever word is appropriate,” acknowledged the significance of moving beyond the diplomatic rupture that occurred in 2021.

This rupture stemmed from Australia’s decision, under the Morrison government, to cancel a French contract for conventional submarines, opting instead for the Aukus pact with the United States and the United Kingdom. This decision led to a temporary recall of the French ambassador from Canberra and a strained relationship between the two nations. The Aukus pact involves Australia acquiring and building nuclear-powered submarines, a move that caught France by surprise and fueled diplomatic tensions.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s memorable statement, “I don’t think, I know,” in response to whether he believed then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison had lied to him about the submarine contract, further fueled the controversy. While Morrison denied the accusation, he later emphasized the necessity of secrecy to prevent France from attempting to undermine the Aukus deal.

Catherine Colonna, during an address to the National Press Club in Canberra, acknowledged that the Aukus announcement was not a pleasant moment but expressed the mutual decision to move forward. She emphasized the need for stability in the Indo-Pacific region, asserting that the world does not need a new crisis.

The bilateral discussions also touched upon concerns about China’s military interactions with Australian naval divers in Japan’s exclusive economic zone and confrontations with the Philippines. These discussions underscore the broader regional context in which Australia and France are navigating their defense and security cooperation.

In a meeting at Parliament House, Wong and Colonna adopted a comprehensive “bilateral roadmap” aimed at improving relations in three key areas: security and defense, climate action and resilience, and culture and education. This roadmap signifies a commitment to fostering cooperation across various domains, acknowledging the multidimensional nature of modern diplomatic relationships.

The foreign ministers also addressed their countries’ responses to the conflict in Gaza. Wong stated that their positions were “extremely closely aligned.” Both ministers agreed that Israel has the right to defend itself but emphasized the importance of adhering to international law.

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