China balancing act as Paris deepens ties with Canberra

China’s economic growth should not be hampered and nations in the region should not be forced to choose between superpowers, the French foreign minister says.

But Catherine Colonna added that nations needed to stand steadfast against any changes to the international order, including by China, with Taiwan emerging as a potential flashpoint.

“We know who our friends are and we know where the threat comes from,” she told the National Press Club on Monday, adding that the world was facing more and more threats to the established order through conflict and challenges.

“Our approach … should not be a binary one of us or them, but one of … inclusiveness and solidarity deeply rooted in increased co-operation.”

She said China “has to hear at the highest level that we don’t have an interest in hindering its economic rise and also has to hear our concerns”.

china balancing act as paris deepens ties with canberra

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said China’s economic growth should not be hampered. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

Ms Colonna also called on China to not take any unilateral actions that would spark a conflict over Taiwan, and for calm and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

She raised concerns about Beijing’s actions towards Australian military divers who were hit by a sonar blast from a Chinese naval ship.

“More and more assertive behaviour is never good, sometimes threatening the safety of navigation,” she said.

Ms Colonna will meet with her counterpart Penny Wong in Canberra on Monday.

She will also hold meetings with representatives from the National Library, National Archives and Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies about records relating to the d’Entrecasteaux expedition that explored the Australian coast in 1792.

The French foreign minister will also travel to Melbourne to oversee the start of energy and cultural projects.

France is looking to re-establish a stronger presence in the region as other European nations come up with their own Pacific strategies, amid concerns over the rise of China.

china balancing act as paris deepens ties with canberra

Australia’s relationship with France worsened over a decision to choose US submarines over French. (Richard Wainwright/AAP PHOTOS)

The Australia-France relationship deteriorated under former Liberal prime minister Scott Morrison after he pulled the pin on a multibillion-dollar French submarine contract in favour of a US nuclear-powered design.

The deal underpinned the creation of the AUKUS agreement between Australia, the UK and US.

It hit rock bottom when French President Emmanuel Macron asserted, “I don’t think, I know”, when he was asked if Mr Morrison had lied to him about the deal.

Reflecting on the ordeal, Ms Colonna said she wouldn’t call it a pleasant moment.

“We took note of a decision by a friend – Australia – to make a sovereign decision,” she said.

“But we decided to move on, so let’s move on. This is what we did with a visit of Prime Minister (Anthony) Albanese to Paris.”

Australia was an important partner in the Pacific, she said, and the two nations would continue to work together as they prepare to unveil a new roadmap after the foreign ministers meet.

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