Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has dismissed comments from his French counterpart that Australia is provoking a “nuclear confrontation” with China over the deal.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who accompanied Albanese in Bangkok for the APEC summit, criticized his predecessor Scott Morrison for his decision to cancel a submarine contract with French shipbuilder Naval Group.
Instead, Australia will procure submarines under a new partnership with the UK and US (AUKUS), a decision that damaged the Franco-Australian relationship last year.
France temporarily recalled its ambassador from Canberra and Mr Macron told Australian reporters that Mr Morrison had lied to him.
Mr Macron told reporters that France’s deal with Australia involved building a submarine fleet “in-house”.
He said the agreement to build submarines for Australia was not about a confrontation with China.
“Australia will maintain the submarines itself, and it is not confrontational for China because they (proposed French model boats) are not nuclear-powered submarines,” he told reporters.
“But (former) Prime Minister Morrison’s choice was the opposite, to engage in another nuclear confrontation.”
The French president said Mr Morrison had made Australia “entirely dependent” on other countries because Australia could not produce or maintain the submarines acquired under the AUKUS deal.
Asked about France’s offer to supply diesel-powered submarines to Australia, Mr Macron said: “It is known, it is still on the table”, adding that talks were underway on the modalities of a possible deal.
Mr Albanese insists Australia maintains a cooperative relationship with France, but the AUKUS deal goes ahead.
“As the leader of France, he has the right to make any comments he wants,” Albanese told reporters in Bangkok.
“Australia has not decided to change its strategy on this … we are continuing with the AUKUS arrangements, there is nothing ambiguous about it.”
It will be decided in early 2023 whether Australia will go for a British or American submarine design.