French ambassador returning to Australia to 'redefine' relations after submarine row

France is sending its ambassador back to Australia, saying it is looking to redefine future relations after a row over a submarine contract.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. Source: AAP

France will send its ambassador back to Australia after withdrawing the envoy in a row over a submarine supply deal, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says.

"I have now asked our ambassador to return to Canberra with two missions: to help redefine the terms of our relationship with Australia in the future ...and to defend our interests in the concrete implementation of the Australian decision to end the programme for future submarines,” Mr Le Drian told French MPs on Wednesday.

Paris had pulled the ambassador out of Canberra in protest at a defence pact negotiated between the United States, Australia and Britain. Known as AUKUS, the pact is intended to counter Chinese military power.

Under the pact, Australia committed to buy US-designed submarines, and pulled out of an existing supply deal with a French manufacturer.

Paris was incensed, saying the deal had been done behind its back.

But while France has sought to mend fences with Washington, it had frozen its contacts with Australia.

France had considered the partnership with Australia dating back to 2016 as the cornerstone of its Indo-Pacific policy and French officials say they feel particularly betrayed by Canberra. They say Canberra gave them no indications despite launching its plan to switch deals 18 months earlier.

Mr Le Drian said Paris had completely reviewed its bilateral relationship with Australia given that the submarine deal had been part of that broader strategy.

"Starting afresh in our bilateral relations will not have any impact in our determination to remain engaged in the Pacific," he said.

Australia has said it regretted the ambassador's recall, and that it values the relationship with France and wants to keep engaging with Paris on issues including the Indo-Pacific. 

In a statement, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she recognised her French counterpart's comments.

“We will work with France to move forward with our relationship," she said.

"We recognise this will take time and ongoing engagement following our submarine decision. The return of the Ambassador is a welcome step in this process."

Diplomats have said the crisis in confidence will need some strong acts from Canberra that would benefit French interests in the region.

With Reuters.

Published 7 October 2021 at 6:12am, updated 7 October 2021 at 6:44am
Source: AAP - SBS