Australia’s daring move against China
Australia will join its new Quad allies in a French naval exercise next month as the region steps up its co-operation in the face of an increasingly belligerent Beijing.
The French-led "La Perouse" war game will be conducted in the Bay of Bengal between April 5 and 7. The Australian anti-submarine warfare frigate HMAS Anzac will take part along with the supply ship HMAS Sirius.
The exercise comes as relations between Beijing and Paris plumb new depths. China's ambassador to France snubbed a diplomatic summons after an intense "wolf warrior" attack on critics of the Chinese Communist Party's policies.
It's an experience Australia can relate to.
"Regular co-operation with our partners and neighbours is critical for maintaining a peaceful, inclusive, sovereign and resilient Indo-Pacific region, where the rights of all states are respected," acting Minister for Defence Marise Payne said about the La Perouse exercise.
India has been invited to send ships for the first time, joining Japan and the United States.
It's another indication of growing co-operation in the region.
Australia took part in India's major "Malabar" war game for the first time in November last year.
China's already busy nearby.
Two survey ships have been mapping the strategically crucial Malacca and Sunda Straits and the undersea mountain range that produces the Andaman Islands. Indonesia has recovered several Chinese long-range "swimmer" surveillance drones in recent months.
China analyst called a 'crazed hyena' by Beijing diplomats
France's increased military co-operation in the Indo-Pacific comes as tensions flare between Paris and Beijing over a flurry of "unacceptable" insults.
China analyst Antoine Bondaz was labelled a "small-time thug", an "ideological troll" and a "crazed hyena" by Beijing's "wolf warrior" diplomats. And French parliamentarian Raphael Glucksmann was black-listed from ever visiting China after seeking to visit Taiwan.
The attack quickly escalated into a diplomatic incident. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian intervened.
"There is no place in Franco-Chinese relations for insults and attempts at intimidation against elected officials and researchers. We defend those who embody freedom of speech and democracy. Always and everywhere," Mr Le Drian tweeted.
"The remarks by the Chinese Embassy in France and their actions against elected officials, researchers and EU diplomats are not acceptable."
❝There is no place in Franco-Chinese relations for insults and attempts at intimidation against elected officials and researchers. We defend those who embody freedom of speech and democracy. Always and everywhere.❞— France Diplomacy🇫🇷 (@francediplo_EN) March 22, 2021
The Communist Party's Global Times English language news service accused Bondaz of being a "radical" anti-China propagandist aligned with the United States. Bondaz said the attack was "predictable" as he worked on "topics that are sensitive for Chinese political authorities".
"These attacks aim in reality to stifle public debate in France in allowing the Chinese embassy to impose the subjects that can or cannot be discussed," he told France24.
But, when summoned to explain his position to the French Foreign Ministry, China's Ambassador Lu Shaye cited conflicting schedules for delaying his appearance.
France's Europe Minister, Clement Beaune, said the delay was an insult: "When you are summoned as an ambassador, you pay a visit to the foreign ministry," he said. "Neither France nor Europe is a doormat."
Quad 'plus' talks
Australian and Indian officials will meet in New Delhi shortly after the warship exercise next month to discuss security issues, enhanced collaboration and COVID vaccine distribution.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne and India's External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar will also hold separate meetings with Mr Le Drian and Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi.
"France is seen as a natural fit for working with the Quad as it has 1.5 million citizens on island territories within the Indo-Pacific, and 93 per cent its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of more than 11 million sq km is also within the region," the Hindustan Times reports.
But defence isn't the only issue being addressed by the Quad. Rare earths, technological co-operation, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity will also be raised.
But the critical issue will be COVID vaccination.
The Quad plans to deliver one billion doses of Indian-produced vaccines to developing nations by the end of next year. Australia has so far promised "last mile" delivery support for Pacific Island and Southeast Asian countries.
"Within ASEAN, privately, the governments are reportedly happy with the Quad's vaccine initiative as there is a deficit in access to vaccines and a trust deficit where Chinese vaccines are concerned," former ambassador Rajiv Bhatia said.
Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer | @JamieSeidel
Originally published as Australia's daring move against China