Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected accusations French President Emmanuel Macron made about a scrapped $37 billion submarine deal. Macron has recently said Morrison lied when abandoning the submarine deal before Australia joined a new security pact with the United Kingdom and the United States known by its acronym AUKUS.
The AUKUS alliance and Australia’s cancelation of a lucrative defense contract in favor of U.S.-built nuclear submarines caught Paris off guard. France felt betrayed. In protest, France temporarily recalled its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra. Tensions remain.
French President Emanuel Macron told reporters at the meeting of the G-20 grouping of industrialized nations that Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had been deceitful despite the two countries enjoying a close relationship.
“When we have respect, you have to behave in line and consistently with this value,” Macron said to reporters.
Morrison quickly denied he had lied. He insisted he had explained to Macron in June that the submarines to be supplied by French company Naval Group were not going to meet Australia’s military requirements.
“I was very clear that what was going to be provided to us was not going to meet our strategic interest,” Morrison said.
News reports in Australia have described the dispute between Australia and France as a diplomatic disaster for Canberra and that the “damage looks uncontrollable.”
Australian Opposition Senator Penny Wong, the shadow foreign affairs minister, believes Australia has been embarrassed by the French president’s allegations.
“We have got a reputation as a nation for being straight-shooters. That is Australia’s reputation internationally. We do what we say. Mr. Morrison’s failure to be upfront, his failure to, as President Macron says, tell the truth is damaging our interests,” Wong said.
Mark Kenny is a professor at the Australian Studies Institute at the Australian National University. He says rarely are world leaders so openly criticized by their peers.
“This was really quite a rare level of candor that we see and a very abrupt denunciation of the integrity of a fellow world leader by Emanuel Macron and I thought that was extraordinary,” Kenny said.
U.S. President Joe Biden also conceded that the United States was “clumsy” in its negotiations for a new alliance with Britain and Australia, which cost France billions of dollars.
The AUKUS pact will allow Australia to become only the seventh country to have nuclear-powered submarines. The new fleet is not expected to be in service for decades, forcing Australia to potentially lease or buy vessels from the United States or Britain in the meantime.