By Fan Zhengjie
With the growing strategic importance of the Indo-Pacific region, France, unwilling to be neglected, is eager to have a voice and attract public attention with military presence. However, as analysts point out, The US Indo-Pacific strategy has been refused everywhere, while the French version is also unlikely to succeed.
France's attempts to present itself in the Indo-Pacific region are nothing new. The French White Paper on Defence and National Security in 2008 pointed out that France should look beyond West Africa to the entire Indian Ocean and East Asia region. The 2013 French White Paper on Defence and National Security emphasized again that the role of the Indian Ocean as the passageway between Europe and Asia is becoming increasingly prominent. France should seize the opportunity that may emerge in this region. Since Emmanuel Macron took office as French president, he has been paying close attention to the current and possible development trend of the Indo-Pacific region and its influence on France. As the US launched its Indo-Pacific strategy, France also adjusted its regional strategy accordingly.
The French President Emmanuel Macron put forward in 2018 the French version of Indo-Pacific Strategy with “Paris-Delhi-Canberra” as its axis French Defense Ministry released a report named“France and Security in the Indo-Pacific” on May 24, 2019. During the Shangri-La Dialogue in June, Ms. Florence Parly, French Minister of Defense, detailed the French defense policy in the Indo-Pacific region and points out that France will confront regional powers using its military deployment in the region, regional cooperation and multilateralism. French President Macron said during his visit to Japan on June 26, “the two countries will work together to preserve and strengthen a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”
France followed closely with the US in proposing the “Indo-Pacific strategy”, trying to command bigger say in the region, and also increasing trade with countries in the region through this strategy. According to French media reports, France plans to export more weapons to countries in the region. France and Australia were previously reported to have signed a major submarine order with a 50-year delivery period. France could also strike a deal with Malaysia, which is interested in French submarines and A400 aircraft. In addition, Paris is preparing to formalize export contracts for Dassault Rafale jets to facilitate negotiation with New Delhi.
Although emphasizing the maintenance of multilateralism, the French Indo-Pacific strategy looks rather weak on its strategic content, more like a follower of the US’. The strategy points out that France has repeatedly participated in multilateral military exercises led by the US in southeast Asia, northeast Asia and the Pacific region. Meanwhile, unlike other European countries, France followed the United States in using the concept of Indo-pacific. The strategy emphasizes that France has always been a defender of multilateralism and does not approve of the practices of the Trump administration challenging the multilateral system with unilateral actions. However, considering its recent moves, the French diplomacy is no different from that of the US. If France really wants to be the defender and vindicator of multilateralism, it should offer alternatives to the US unilateralism, rather than follow the American path and act against dialogue and negotiation.
While military co-operation with countries such as Australia, India and Japan would benefit French arms exports to the region, such military alliances are limited in many aspects and these countries are also not always willing to follow France’s lead. Due to historical reasons, France, with its complex of great power, has a tradition of putting forward distinctive concepts and policies to highlight its uniqueness and expand its international influence. But at present, with its national strength and influence declining, France is also facing multiple dilemmas inside and outside the EU. All these suggest that France no longer has the strength and resources to support its global strategic goals.
(The author is an assistant research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies.)