United States - Visit by Jean-Yves Le Drian - speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (14 July 2021)


Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to begin by telling you how happy I am to be here in Washington today, and how delighted I am that this first leg of my brief American trip is giving me the opportunity to speak with you both live and virtually. First and foremost I want to thank the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace for inviting me to address an aspect of the 21st-century transatlantic relationship that I consider vital.

In the United States, all eyes are now focused on the Indo-Pacific, and especially China, and rightly so. Rightly so because the Indo-Pacific region has become a key to global stability, as well as global tensions and potential crises. Rightly so because the question of relations with a Chinese power that is constantly asserting itself now permeates all major global issues.

This same realization is dawning in Europe. This is true of France, of course, as an Indo-Pacific nation. We are an Indo-Pacific nation with territories that give France the world’s second-largest exclusive economic zone, with interests, with populations – it is true that 1.65 million inhabitants is not much, compared to the number overall, but they are there – and with a permanent military force numbering more than 8,500 men. All of this has justified the establishment of a national strategy dedicated to that region.

But it is also true of other European Union members and of the EU as such, which also have ever-growing fundamental interests in this region and are now in the process of taking their full measure. Now more than ever, we are looking clear-sightedly and without naivety at the challenges posed by China and its manner of asserting its power.

We are currently formulating a European strategy for the Indo-Pacific that will be one of the priorities of the French EU Presidency in the first half of next year. And since President Macron’s speech at Garden Island in Sydney in May 2018, France has been stepping up its actions in the Indo-Pacific in four areas:

It is bolstering its efforts in the resolution of regional crises, maritime security, and the fight against terrorism.

It is creating key strategic partnerships with our major partners, and first and foremost Japan, Australia and India. This year for the first time, I held a meeting at the ministerial level as part of the trialogue we established with India and Australia. It was a first that will be followed by other actions and events.

We are also stepping up our efforts by working more intensively with regional organizations, especially ASEAN, and by strengthening our commitment to promoting global public goods, specifically the climate, the environment and biodiversity.

Given the importance of these issues for the United States, the Indo-Pacific is naturally now at the heart of a new agenda that we must pursue together within the transatlantic relationship that we wish to reshape and rebalance.

We broached this subject together at the EU-U.S. summit in June. It was especially pertinent because on many of the challenges we must meet to promote our model and our values, the EU has the tools and skills to act. I am thinking of the climate, I am thinking of the digital sector, I am thinking of the technologies of the future. I am also thinking, of course, of defending human rights.

The Indo-Pacific was also discussed at the G7 and at the NATO summit – in the latter case, in order to reflect together on the repercussions of a transformation of the Indo-Pacific and China’s behavior on the security of the Euro-Atlantic space, even though NATO is not an alliance that focuses on a particular country, or an alliance whose center of gravity is the Indo-Pacific.

But the challenge is not only legal or security-related, it is also political, as Europe – and this is one of the messages I want to convey to you today – has now understood that it has no other choice but to assert itself on the international stage and to assume its responsibilities. This is true for a number of issues, including the Indo-Pacific, which is logically destined to be one of the pillars of the EU-U.S. agenda.

The challenges of the transatlantic pivot toward the Indo-Pacific, which we must undertake together, are enormous. They involve our capacity to bring a democratic response consistent with our values to the rise of authoritarianism. They involve our ability to respond appropriately to the brutalization of the world, and the questioning of multilateralism. And they involve fully expanding international competition to every area.

And it is precisely because the challenges are enormous that we must not think in terms of blocs, which would not be in our interest – if only because we are living at a time of global challenges, as the pandemic crisis reminds us every day.

The approach toward the Indo-Pacific, which we must define together, is not based on a confrontation with China. For us, the challenges lie elsewhere. We must focus our transatlantic efforts on defending and promoting our own model, that of liberal democracies furthering values, principles, transparency, free information, and that of a rules-based international order rooted in effective multilateral institutions.

It is this dual model that we would like to enhance with our partners in the Indo-Pacific, Africa and the Middle East because it is this dual model that is potentially under attack, given that there are some with an interest in showing that it is ineffective in meeting major global challenges.

All of these principles are naturally destined to be embodied in the relationship we wish to have with China, and as you know, we are in agreement with the United States that it can be, all in the same time, a partner, a strategic competitor, and even an economic competitor as well as a systemic rival. Each of these three concepts is important and none of them should be forgotten. I have noted in conversations with my American interlocutors in the new Administration that we are all using this triptych, and even the same words. It is now the balance between these different approaches that are inevitably linked, in part – the balance between these approaches that we have to define. We know that we will not always use them at the same time or in the same way on every issue. And that is what is up for discussion.

In practical terms, we must take coordinated initiatives wherever possible on each of the three pillars of the triptych that I mentioned.

Cooperation initiatives, first of all. Let’s be clear, without a commitment from China, we will not be able to overcome today’s challenges. The challenge of resolving climate change, regarding which China, as the biggest CO2 emitter on the planet, must assume its share of responsibility. To that end, we have been supporting it for 15 years, through our development agencies, in its efforts to finance its vital energy transition, but we need to discuss these challenges with China, including in the run-up to the COP26 in Glasgow.

There is also the challenge of biodiversity erosion, on which we have all worked with China in the run-up to the COP15. There is the challenge of global inequalities, exacerbated by the economic repercussions of the pandemic. This is why we must work with China within the framework of the G20, on debt relief in Africa.

Lastly, let’s not forget the reform of healthcare architecture in which Europe has already been very much involved, through efforts to ensure that the implementation of the International Health Regulations is more effective and by creating a One Health panel, which will establish a warning and information system in real time. Obviously, with respect to all these issues, we must bring China on board and convince it to cooperate as we do with respect to the critical investigations into the origin of the virus.

With respect to all these challenges that are absolutely critical to our future, we must be able to bring about change. This is all the more important given that if we do not treat these issues – climate, diversity, health, inequalities – with the necessary seriousness and political commitment, then they could constitute a major driver of disorder and insecurity around the world.

We must also take initiatives regarding the second part of the triptych in order to regulate international competition in the areas of trade and technology, as well as with respect to security. This competition takes various forms, and is particularly evident at the multilateral level, in the capacity of multilateral institutions to generate standards. Standards that apply to everyone, and therefore in the temptation to influence, to anticipate, to promote – for their own benefit – future standards.

In this respect, it is significant that the election of the directors general of international organizations, especially those that have real prescriptive power on the international scene – I’m thinking for example of the FAO - has truly become a major political issue for the powers. This is also the case for the WTO, which must be modernized and reformed in order to establish more transparent international trade rules and fair competition. Thanks to its normative power, and to its expertise and determination to assume the balance of power whenever necessary, which is new, it must be said, I am convinced that the EU has to be a key partner to the United States in this effort.

I said earlier that we will oversee the EU’s strategy for the Indo-Pacific region during the first half of 2022 at the latest. This will be an important political milestone in terms of providing a structure for our dialogue with the U.S.

Lastly, the initiatives to promote our model and the universal values we hold dear. Because when China behaves as a systemic rival, it’s the concept of the human person, of human dignity, rights and freedoms that is at stake. The ideals at the heart of our common fight since 1945 are at stake. Here again, Europe has valuable tools to defend this vision in concrete terms:

  • The strength of its internal market allows it to take action on conditionality, to take action on reciprocity.
  • The fact that the EU and its member states are the largest donor of development assistance in the world and the largest donor of humanitarian assistance in the world. We also have networks of influence on all continents.
  • The role we play in the multilateral institutions and the new frameworks for collective action that we have launched, such as the Alliance for Multilateralism, which I created together with my German counterpart in 2019 and which helped hold up multilateralism, which has been constantly under attack from all directions for four years.

But we still have a long way to go in order to fully understand certain challenges regarding which the future of the model and the values we defend are at stake. I am thinking of cyberspace, regarding which we need to introduce new standards in order to avoid the double pitfall of digital authoritarianism and Jungle 2.0 where everything is valid and therefore everything is permitted. I am thinking of the question of the Uighurs which has already prompted the EU to adopt sanctions given the seriousness of the situation, the first sanctions since the Tiananmen massacre in June 1989, the first EU sanctions. I am thinking of this essential institution – the UN Human Rights Council – where we must demonstrate the utmost determination.

With respect to all these issues, of course, there may be areas of disagreement within the trans-Atlantic relationship. We are very close, we share what is essential, but we are however not the same, because although our collective preferences often converge, they do not always coincide, and not necessarily at the same time. Which is a good thing, to a certain extent, because this diversity is a source of enrichment.

But I am confident that the new American administration understands what now forms the basis of our ambition to strengthen European sovereignty. It’s not a protectionist or inward-looking agenda. This ambition is solely focused on preserving our own capacity to make our choices, to continue to be the sole authors of our own history and to refuse to become merely the subjects of the history of others.

In order to achieve that, we have to give ourselves the means to do so. This is what we are in the process of doing in Europe, at the economic and trade level, as well as at the military level. This is why I am convinced that the United States will see this initiative as a way to guarantee stronger, more agile partners, because we cannot allow ourselves to act alone in this brutal world we’re living in, even when you are a global power like the United States, as the EU ultimately is as well.

Our rebalanced, and as a result, more sustainable, trans-Atlantic relationship, including with respect to our trans-Atlantic shift toward the Indo-Pacific region, is therefore a decisive advantage in the context of new international circumstances. Thank you for your attention.