French President Emmanuel Macron has told new Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese he wanted to focus on the future as they try to rebuild relations badly strained by his predecessor’s decision to ditch a submarine contract with Paris.
Relations between the two Western allies reached a low last October when Australia cancelled a multibillion-dollar French submarine programme and opted for submarines to be built with US and British technology instead.
Receiving Albanese at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Friday, the pair were asked if Australia should apologise.
“He’s not responsible for what happened,” Macron replied. “We’ll speak about the future, not the past.”
The decision to scrap the lucrative contract had incensed Paris.
Macron reacted with fury, recalling the French ambassador to Australia, accusing the then-Australian prime minister, conservative Scott Morrison, of lying, while the French foreign minister said Canberra had “stabbed its ally in the back”.
But Morrison’s party lost elections in May and his Labour successor has pledged to rebuild ties with France.
‘Trust, respect, honesty’
In his statement at the French presidential palace, Albanese thanked Macron for the warm welcome and appeared to allude to the dispute: “Trust, respect, and honesty matter,” he said.
Paris, which has one million citizens living in territories spanning the Indian and Pacific Oceans and 8,000 troops stationed there, had made Australia a cornerstone of its Indo-Pacific strategy to counter the rise of China.
France has supplied warplanes to India and Indonesia in particular to build military ties with countries in the region.
On Friday, Macron said the two would discuss defence and geostrategic issues but also “new projects” in terms of renewable energy, critical metals, space, and the South Pole, with the two countries both having territories in the Antarctic.