French call for ties across oceans

Australia and France should work more closely with India to maintain security in the region, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said yesterday.

Mr Le Drian said such an ­alliance could build on France’s close ties with India.

“We need to think of a three-way partnership that includes India if we want security in the Indo-Pacific region,” he said.

In talks with Defence Minister Marise Payne, Mr Le Drian was struck by similarities in the concerns and strategies set out in Australia’s new defence white paper and those in France’s strategic blueprint.

“We are working at building a common strategy and we are looking at strategic co-operation as well,” Mr Le Drian said.

France and Australia worked closely together helping Fiji after the recent cyclone, he said. “We need to think about the larger picture, and have a more comprehensive approach.

“France is a Pacific nation through New Caledonia and French Polynesia. It is also an ­Indian Ocean nation through the island of La Reunion and our military presence in Djibouti and the United Arab Emirates.’’ France and Australia were ­already working closely in the ­coalition fighting the Islamic State terror group, known in the Middle East as Daesh.

They shared intelligence and Australian air force air-to-air refuelling tankers were refuelling French jets on missions to strike Islamic State, which was like a two-headed monster: a proto terrorist state with a terrorist army and which was determined to ­destroy the Middle East to clear the way for its planned caliphate.

Mr Le Drian and Senator Payne discussed the situation in the South China Sea and China’s militarisation of disputed islands.

“France definitely wants to see stability in the region, grounded in law, and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. Any disputes must be settled peacefully,” Mr Le Drain said.

France shared Australia’s view that there had to be a code of good conduct in the area.

Mr Le Drian said he was aware of the call by former army commander Peter Leahy for Australia to send special forces to strike terrorists in their bases.

Australian special forces were very capable and France was open to the idea of working with them but that would be up to the Australian government.

Along with Japan and German, France is bidding to provide Australia’s 12 new submarines.

France was offering Australia its most advanced and secret sonar and stealth technology, Mr Le Drain said, and the submarines could be built in Adelaide.

Governor-General Peter Cosgrove and Senator Payne would be guests of honour at commemorations marking the 100th anniversary of the heavy fighting in France in 1916.

The Australian understands France played a significant role in securing the release of Australian hostage Jocelyn Elliott and in ­negotiations for the release of her surgeon husband, Ken Elliot, after they were kidnapped while working in Burkina Faso.

Mr Le Drain said France had experienced many such situations in the past and he had learned that they required both discretion and tenacity. “Those two important principles will be essential to obtain the release of Mr Elliot,” he said.

The Australian - French call for ties across oceans.

The Australian
Brendan Nicholson
2 March 2016