By Colin Packham
CANBERRA (Reuters) – Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday he had raised the possibility that Australia might scrap a 2016 submarine deal with a French company in talks with the French president in June, rejecting French criticism that it had not been warned.
Australia on Thursday said it would scrap the $40 billion deal with France’s Naval Group to build a fleet of conventional submarines and would instead build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with U.S. and British technology after striking a trilateral security partnership.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described the decision as a stab in the back.
On Thursday, Morrison said France had been informed of the decision ahead of the announcement but France denied that.
Morrison on Friday acknowledged the damage to Australia-France ties but insisted he had told French President Emmanuel Macron in June that Australia had revised its thinking on the deal and might have to make another decision.
“I made it very clear, we had a lengthy dinner there in Paris, about our very significant concerns about the capabilities of conventional submarines to deal with the new strategic environment we’re faced with,” Morrison told 5aa Radio.
“I made it very clear that this was a matter that Australia would need to make a decision on in our national interest,” he said.
Strained Australia-French ties come as the United States and its allies seek additional support in the Asia and the Pacific amid concern about the rising influence of a more assertive China.
France is about to take over the presidency of the European Union, which on Thursday released its strategy for the Indo-Pacific, pledging to seek a trade deal with Taiwan and to deploy more ships to keep sea routes open.
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