One of France’s most senior defence figures Vice Admiral Nicolas Vaujour has stressed that the Pacific would always be a priority for his military, declaring that “France does not have a presence in the Pacific, France belongs to the Pacific.”
“We have two territories there in New Caledonia and French Polynesia, and so I have to say that my neighbours as a French person are Belgium and Germany, but also Tonga, Vanuatu, Australia and New Zealand.”
France has begun updating its fleet of ageing ocean patrol vessels in the Pacific, as well as modernising its maritime surveillance and search-and-rescue aircraft in the region.
Following his talks with Australian Defence Force Chief General Angus Campbell Campbell, the Vice Admiral revealed he had proposed the two countries organise joint naval training drills ahead of next year’s Croix du Sud, a major French-led humanitarian and disaster relief training exercise in the South Pacific.
In April last year, the French and Australian navies conducted a joint patrol through the contested South China Sea after the idea was first proposed back in 2017.
“I think we have the same view on the Indo-Pacific,” Vice Admiral Vaujour said when asked about the rise of China in the region.
“We share the same vision, we have a common destiny because we are neighbours, we face the same climate change challenges, we face the same security issues, so we have a lot of room to co-operate together.2
Earlier this week, the U.S Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, was far more outspoken on China’s rise in the Indo-Pacific, after co-hosting the CHODs conference in Sydney.
“It’s clear that the Chinese have designs to dominate the South China Seas from a military standpoint and I think that should be a concern to people,” Milley said on the 7.30 programme.
Meanwhile, Vice Admiral Nicolas Vaujour is warning Australia that acquiring nuclear submarines will be “much more difficult2 than the now scrapped plan to build a new fleet of conventionally powered boats.
As both nations look to reset relations following the diplomatic fallout from last year’s AUKUS announcement, the French military’s Chief of Operations of the Joint Staff is signalling a “new era” of cooperation involving more naval exercises and cooperation.
Vice Admiral Vaujour travelled to Sydney for talks with Australian Defence Force Chief General Angus Campbell and other military leaders at the high-powered Indo-Pacific Chiefs of Defence (CHODs) Conference.
In September, the Morrison government angered Paris by ditching a $90 billion (US$62 billion) project to construct French designed submarines, to instead pursue a nuclear-powered fleet with help from the United States and United Kingdom.
The visiting French military chief said although the matter had now been settled with an $835 million (US$584 million) compensation deal, he was “surprised” at Australia’s decision and warned the new AUKUS venture would be very challenging.
“My own assessment, it is much more difficult to have that kind of asset than the classic submarine, so I hope for Australia, for UK and for the U.S that they will find the best way to answer the question [of how to deliver the new capability]”
As owners of nuclear-powered submarines, Vice Admiral Vaujour said France knew “very well” the workforce and logistical challenges involved in maintaining the complex technology.
“There is a lot of advantage to [having] a nuclear submarine, you can stay a long time at sea, but it means you have to have big industry, supply chains and so on inside your country to be able to operate that”.
“You need to build the skills of the crew and so on which is much more difficult than for a classic submarine – but of course that’s a choice,” the Vice Admiral added.