France not seeking to ‘fuel competition’ in region

Ambassador Marc Abensour

France’s Ambassador for the Indo-Pacific says the Indo-Pacific Strategy should not fuel further strategic competition in the region.

During a recent visit to Fiji, Ambassador Marc Abensour said while there is great interest in the Pacific and different visions, guidelines and strategies for engagement, “at the end of the day, what is most important is that all these different approaches can serve the same purpose, which is to create the conditions for greater autonomy, and greater sovereignty of countries in the Pacific.”

He says France’s approach aligns with the 2050 Blue Pacific Strategy, with its focus on the fight against climate change, maritime security, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, underpinned by a commitment to rules-based order.

France’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, was created in response to what is described as a ‘region with polarising tensions and significant global issues’.  It seeks to maintain an area that is open and inclusive, “free from all forms of coercion and founded on multilateralism and the respect of international law”.

It notes that “the Indo-Pacific is an area seeing profound strategic changes. China’s increasing power and territorial claims, as well as the global competition underway with the United States, are weakening the balance of power in the region.

“The context is also marked by transnational threats, proliferation crisis, and security consequences due to climate change that are increasingly evident,” the strategy states.

While the strategy is meant to foster collaboration with its partners, it was designed without the involvement of Kanak and Maohi politicians, according to a French Senate report.

Ambassador Abensour responds, “What is important to emphasise is the fact that the Indo-Pacific Strategy should serve as a proper vehicle to facilitate the insertion of the French territories within their regional environment and also be a proper vehicle to foster economic diversification of our territories.

“So maybe it (consultation) was not done enough, and so now we have to ensure that the authority from the French territories can also fully measure how the Indo-Pacific strategy can serve their own objectives,” he said.

The Ambassador says France is taking specific measures to deepen its presence in the Pacific: “So we are, for instance, appointing new staff members across our diplomatic network in the region.”

The Ambassador’s mission included visits to New Zealand, and Australia.

The stop in Australia followed tensions over Australia’s decision to break from  a partnership with France through  the Future Submarine Program in 2021.

Ambassador Abensour noted: “It was an episode; we expressed at that time our deep regret, and we think that it is a sovereign decision by the Australian government. I mean, it is a process; we need to rebuild trust, and that takes time. So we should take it step by step and build on some concrete cooperation.

“We are at the moment making an effort to rebuild that partnership with Australia; our two defence ministers met at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, and then later on the Australian Prime Minister visited France, where we had a two plus two meeting, which had the Minister of Defence and Foreign Affairs from both sides, and we are working on a shared roadmap, which should be adopted soon in Australia,” he said.