MONDE DIPLOMATIQUE – by Martine Bulard, June 2021
Between Chinese dragon and US eagle – The West’s pivot to Asia has heightened tensions in the Indo-Pacific. With the US and China vying for predominance and increasing their military presence, the region’s nations face a difficult balancing act to secure their interests.
France has 7,000 troops, 15 warships and 38 aircraft permanently stationed in the Asia-Pacific region, Rear Admiral Jean-Mathieu Rey recently revealed. Between late March and early June they were joined by the nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, the nuclear attack submarine Émeraude, several more planes (including four Rafales and an A330 air-to-air refuelling aircraft), the Jeanne d’Arc amphibious battle group, the amphibious helicopter carrier Tonnerre, and the stealth frigate Surcouf, for joint exercises with the US, Australia, Japan and India.
France has shown off its military assets in the region before — in 2019 a French frigate sailed through the Taiwan Strait, causing a diplomatic row with China — but never on this scale. It’s clear that this deployment in the ‘Indo-Pacific axis’ was intended to impress China. President Emmanuel Macron has on occasion denied this, but during a visit to Australia and the French overseas territory of New Caledonia in 2018 he warned that China was ‘building its hegemony step by step. It’s not a question of raising fears, but of facing up to reality… If we fail to organise ourselves, it will soon be a hegemony that reduces our freedom, our opportunities’.The very real US hegemony in the region doesn’t seem to bother him. Geographical and historical ties havegiven way to military-diplomatic alliances: France has quietly — and without any public debate — gone from calling itself an ‘Indo-Pacific power’, emphasising that it has overseas territories here (New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Saint Pierre and Miquelon) to being a power in the US-led ‘Indo-Pacific axis’. The semantic shift is significant: in June (…)
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