What is the Indo-Pacific? Why is France involved there and has it developed a regional strategy? Christophe Penot, Ambassador for the Indo-Pacific, answers these questions and presents the major thrusts of the French strategy.
The Indo-Pacific is a geopolitical concept. It is based on the common challenges across the whole region, which has for the last decade been the theatre of major strategic shifts.
The Indo-Pacific is characterized by its maritime dimension. The Indo-Pacific is the new global centre of gravity, representing 60% of global GDP and home to 4.5 billion people. It is also where the future of a rules-based international order is at stake, along with our ability to address major current challenges such as climate change, biodiversity and global health.
The French Indo-Pacific strategy, launched in 2018, addresses issues of sovereignty: France is an Indo-Pacific nation, with 7 of its 13 overseas Departments, Regions and Communities situated in either the Indian Ocean or the South Pacific.
Moreover, France, like the European Union, has its own economic, political and strategic interests to defend in the region. Ongoing shifts in the Indo-Pacific have direct consequences for our prosperity and security.
Our strategy aims to maintain an open region, free of any form of coercion and based on the rule of international law and multilateralism. For France, that means promoting a multidimensional approach simultaneously addressing:
• Security and military issues;
• Freedom of navigation;
• Economic and commercial issues;
• Environmental issues.
The French strategy rejects bloc geopolitics, which could aggravate tensions across the Indo-Pacific and particularly in East Asia.
Special partnerships have been forged with many countries in the region, including long-standing strategic partnerships with India and Japan, countries with which our bilateral cooperation in the Indo-Pacific has developed fast. Partnerships cover maritime safety and security, management of marine resources and the environment, as well as global issues.
In South-East Asia, strategic partnerships have been formed with Indonesia (2011), Singapore (2012) and Vietnam (2013). There is also significant cooperation with Malaysia, the Republic of Korea and New Zealand on issues linked to the Indo-Pacific.
The French Indo-Pacific strategy is not aimed at any country. It naturally takes into account the issues raised by China’s growing assertiveness, including in the military dimension.
France and the EU have a shared approach to China, based on three points. China is a major partner for France with which we need to cooperate on global issues such as climate change and health. It is also an economic and commercial competitor, and we are working to rebalance our relationship, underlining our commitment to the rule of law. Lastly, China is also a “systemic rival”, as it has a vision of the international order and a model that are profoundly different, particularly as regards human rights.
The United States is an ally and a major Indo-Pacific player with which France wishes to maintain close cooperation. Our approaches may diverge, as shown by the AUKUS affair, but we are seeking synergy between our Indo-Pacific strategies. The aim is to contribute to our shared goal of an open, stable region, based on the rule of law.
The meetings in autumn 2021 of the President of the Republic and the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs with their American counterparts have helped restore positive momentum in France’s relationship with the United States.
The United States has recognized the importance of the strategies implemented by France and the EU in the Indo-Pacific, where they intend to play their full role.
France’s approach, and Europe’s, is to offer all Indo-Pacific actors an alternative model that is respectful of national sovereignty: a path that is compliant with international law and guarantees freedom of navigation, and which, while fully engaging in power games, including in the military sphere, does not stoke tensions and polarization.
France worked considerably to ensure the adoption of a European Indo-Pacific strategy, which was the subject of a joint communication from the European Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on 16 September 2021. Its main goals, which converge with our national strategy, are to promote security and peace, effective multilateralism and an international order founded on the rule of law, economic prosperity and the promotion of global common goods. The implementation of this strategy will be a priority of the upcoming French Presidency of the Council of the European Union, starting on 1 January 2021.
9/ Has the French strategy been called into question by the shelving of the Australian Future Submarine Program?
Australia’s decision in September 2021, made without prior consultation, to terminate the submarine procurement programme underway with France, has led to a review of the strategic partnership that linked our two countries. But the geography has not changed: France is and will remain an Indo-Pacific nation. France and its European partners must, more than ever, remain actors in a region that is crucial for their economic, political and strategic interests. France’s engagement and the development of its partnerships with regional countries are continuing.
Updated: November 2021