Another columnist went even further by stating that “Canberra will…coerce ASEAN to stand with the US and Australia against China” while noting that Malaysia had “responded strongly” against the AUKUS pact. India should also be careful because, as the columnist wrote, “the US can betray or abandon them as well.”
To be sure, recent Indo-Pacific developments have caused a serious crisis in relations between the US and France, which was set to sell a fleet of diesel submarines to Australia in a now-canceled US$66 billion deal.
France recalled its ambassadors to Washington and Canberra, a move that Paris announced it would reverse by next week in the case of the US, while the European Union rallied behind its French partner.
EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell said on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York that “more cooperation, more coordination, less fragmentation” was needed for “a stable Indo-Pacific region” where China is the main rising power.
While such disagreements verging on conflicts of interest should not be underestimated, they will not necessarily work to China’s advantage, as its nationalistic state media is seeking to portray.
Immediately after losing the submarine deal with Australia, French president Emmanuel Macron phoned India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss bilateral cooperation. Lost on many international observers is that France is an Indian Ocean power, controlling more maritime territory there than any other country.
France’s Exclusive Economic Zone in the Indian Ocean encompasses altogether 2,650,013 square kilometers, which is possible because of all the scattered islands which are under French control.
Réunion with 860,000 inhabitants is a department d’outre mer, or an overseas department of France, and so is the smaller island of Mayotte northwest of Madagascar with a population of 270,000. Réunion and Mayotte are also included as overseas departments of France.
In addition to those inhabited islands, France also controls the Kerguelen islands, the Crozet archipelago, the St Paul and Amsterdam islands, and a string of smaller islets around and near Madagascar: Juan de Nova, Europa, Bassas da India, Cloriosa and Tromelin.
None of those islands have any permanent population but French scientists and researchers are based on some of them on a rotational basis.
Most of those islands are small but the largest and most mountainous, Kerguelen, is half the size of Connecticut. More than 100 French scientists are based in Kerguelen during the summer and somewhat fewer in winter.
Its main settlement, Port-aux-Français, has a satellite tracking station run by the French Space Agency, scientific laboratories, technical installations and, it is rumored, stockpiles of weapons.
What is official is that France, apart from its troops on Réunion, maintains a military base in its former colony Djibouti on the Horn of Africa as well as a detachment of the Foreign Legion on Mayotte.
France’s total troop strength in the southern Indian Ocean includes 1,900 plus aircraft and naval patrol boats, as well as 1,350 soldiers with air support in Djibouti. France also maintains a naval base in the United Arab Emirates with 700 troops, ships and aircraft.
So far France’s emphasis in the Indian Ocean Region has been on combating piracy, conducting humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and climate research, and supporting US-led war efforts in the Middle East.