PARIS — France’s foreign minister believes security in the Taiwan Strait is essential for the security of the Indo-Pacific region, and said Paris is “very keen to act to prevent any conflict.”
Jean-Yves Le Drian did not directly mention China in a written interview with Nikkei Asia, but his comments appeared to express concern about Beijing ramping up threats to Taiwan, such as by repeatedly flying military jets near the island.
“We condemn any attempt to undermine the status quo, any action likely to cause an incident that would lead to an escalation,” Le Drain said. “This is a concern we share with our European partners.”
France wants to “help affirm and protect” the sovereignty of its partners, he said, warning about “a world where certain powers are increasing acts of interference and predatory behavior, and making no secret of their hegemonic aims.”
Last October, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for strengthening of the EU-Taiwan relationship — another sign that Europe is moving away from Beijing over rising concerns about human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. In December, a group of French parliamentarians traveled to Taiwan to meet with President Tsai Ing-win, despite Paris not having formal diplomatic relations with Taipei.
Le Drian said that France would “support any initiative likely to take forward trade relations with Taiwan,” such as greater market access or the lifting of nontariff barriers.
“The European Union is currently Taiwan’s fourth-largest trading partner and its leading foreign investor, Le Drian said, pointing to heavy investment in sectors such as the chemical and electronics industries, finance and insurance.
China has been angered by negotiations between Taiwan and the U.S. on a trade agreement, and has regularly lashed out at countries such as Lithuania that have shown support for Taipei. Earlier this month, Beijing suspended imports of beef, dairy and beer from the tiny Baltic state.
Nearly 60 foreign ministers from the Indo-Pacific region and the EU will discuss topics “from health and climate issues to security challenges, as well as matters of connectivity and digital technology.”
France, which holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union for six months, is pushing to put its priorities on the agenda, including the strengthening of its relationship with the Indo-Pacific region, where nearly 2 million French nationals live.
The defense and foreign ministers of France and Japan held a “2-plus-2” meeting last month, at which they confirmed their commitment to “uphold free access to common spaces and contribute to maintaining stability.” The two countries’ militaries are also cooperating. They have held joint naval exercises, and their air forces signed a mutual logistical agreement in June 2019.
Last week, France closed a deal with Indonesia to sell the Southeast Asian nation 42 Rafale fighter jets, as Jakarta seeks to modernize its forces in light of rising tensions in the South China Sea.
“We’re very proud to be contributing to the development of our Indo-Pacific partners’ strategic autonomy,” said Le Drian.
France is the third-biggest exporter of weapons in the world, according to the country’s defense ministry. Paris was therefore angry when Australia canceled a deal last September to buy French submarines, and signed up instead to the AUKUS arrangement with the U.K. and the U.S.
“The circumstances under which it [AUKUS] was formed were not commensurate with the dialogue and coordination one might expect on such issues,” said Le Drian.
But despite the coolness in relations, the French foreign minister said that Paris and Washington resumed dialogue quickly afterward to rebuild cooperation on “the basis of trust and transparency.”
After all, he said, the two countries are united “by genuinely similar views” on the region, namely counterbalancing Chinese military influence in the Indo-Pacific.