China’s growing influence in South East Asia has prompted French President Emmanuel Macron and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to remind Beijing to respect a rules-based order.
President Macron is in a three-day visit to Australia. The French President hopes to forge a number of agreements including one that would strengthen their military forces.
Both President Macron and PM Turnbull also want to address their joint concerns on China’s presence in the South Pacific. Both leaders have grown wary of China’s continuous military build-up particularly setting up structures and airstrips on disputed islands on the West Philippine Sea.
China has been under criticism for rejecting a rules-based order specifically rejecting a United Nations ruling in 2016 which granted the Philippines jurisdiction and full-ownership of the Spratley Islands which are situated on the West Philippine Sea.
China rejected the ruling citing “historical ownership” via its territorial claims of a “nine-dash line” which included the disputed islands.
President Macron said that China should observe international law to maintain peace, order and to respect the territorial jurisdiction of each country:
“China’s rise is very good news for everybody. It’s good for China itself, its middle classes, and it’s good for global growth and regional growth. What’s important is to preserve a rules-based development in the region, especially in the Indo-Pacific region and to preserve the necessary balances in the region. And it’s important not to have any hegemony in the region.”
Turnbull reiterated that China’s own growth was due to having a rules-based order in the region:
“We welcome further Chinese investment in our region. We welcome the benefits of the growth of China. But of course, we are committed to the maintenance of the rules-based international order, to good governance, strong standards, that will enable us all to continue this remarkable arc of prosperity that has been enabled by that rule of law.”
France has the largest investment in military spending in the Pacific region among all European countries. It has 1.5 million citizens and around 8,000-strong military personnel deployed in several territories in the Pacific and Indian oceans.
President Macron said he wants France to have a stronger and more strategic military build-up in the South Pacific with Australia as its defence partner. Naval Group which is a company from France is building a fleet of 12 submarines for Australia at a facility in Adelaide. The arrangement is estimated to be worth $36.3 Billion.