France’s foreign minister on Sunday condemned attempts to undermine the “status quo” in the Taiwan Strait, saying that Paris is “very keen to act to prevent” conflict.
In a written interview with Nikkei Asia, French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian did not mention China by name, but said that any action that might lead to an escalation is “a concern we share with our European partners.”
Stability in the Taiwan Strait is key to the stability of the region, he said, mentioning French military bases in the Pacific, including in New Caledonia.
Le Drian made the comments ahead of today’s first European Ministerial Forum for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, which is to be hosted by Paris.
More than 50 foreign ministers from the EU and the Indo-Pacific region are expected to attend virtually to discuss topics ranging from “health and climate issues to security challenges, as well as matters of connectivity and digital technology,” Le Drian told the Japanese newspaper.
France has been increasing its presence in the region.
In February last year, it sent a nuclear attack submarine on a freedom-of-navigation patrol to the South China Sea.
This was followed in May by its first-ever joint military exercise in Japan with US and Japanese forces, as well as navigation of the Taiwan Strait by a navy signals intelligence vessel in October.
The EU is also considering enhancing economic ties with Taiwan through a free-trade or investment agreement.
Asked about this possibility, Le Drian said that France would “support any initiative likely to take forward trade relations with Taiwan.”
The EU in 2015 announced it was researching the possibility of signing a trade deal with Taiwan, but negotiations have yet to begin.
However, a resolution passed by the European Parliament in October last year called for strengthening the EU-Taiwan relationship, including through signing a trade agreement.
As France holds the presidency of the Council of the EU through June, there is speculation that it might hold implications for trade discussions with Taiwan.
As for the potential of participating in the AUKUS security alliance between the US, the UK and Australia, Le Drian said that the circumstances under which the alliance was formed “were not commensurate with the dialogue and coordination one might expect on such issues.”
The alliance drew protests from Paris in September last year, when Australia canceled its deal to buy French submarines in favor of joining AUKUS.
However, Le Drian added that dialogue with Washington resumed shortly afterward, with the two united “by genuinely similar views” on security needs in the Indo-Pacific region.
He also touted security cooperation with Japan, which is similarly founded on a shared belief in freedom of navigation.
Separately, the European External Action Service yesterday said that EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell is to cochair today’s Indo-Pacific forum along with Le Drian.
For the first time, it is to bring together EU partners from East Africa, the Persian Gulf, South Africa, the Pacific and Indian oceans, and across Asia, the service said.
France said the Indo-Pacific nations expected to attend include Japan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.
Neither China nor the US is expected to attend.
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