Not everyone was as pleased as most Australians were to learn about our historic new defence pact with the UK and the US.
On hearing the news, Xi Jinping
Almost choked on his deep-fried bat’s wing.
‘Even underground silos
Won’t save Aussie gweilos’
Was the subsequent tweet from Beijing.
The French are almost as angry with us, and not just because our long-overdue decision to buy nuclear-propelled – as opposed to wood-fired – submarines scuttles a deal which might have done for the French ship-building industry what Covid has done for the QR code. AUKUS is also the latest in a long line of anglosphere snubs to the nation which The Simpsons’ Groundskeeper Willie once described as ‘Cheese-eating surrender monkeys’ – an insult which a New York Post headline reprised when France declined to participate in the invasion of Iraq. And Anglo-French relations have been strained by maritime matters for much longer, of course. Most notably at Trafalgar, where the combined French and Spanish navies were reduced to flotsam by a much smaller British fleet commanded by a one-eyed, one-armed short-arse, and a century later off the coast of Algeria, when the Royal Navy destroyed the French fleet again, this time to stop it falling into German hands, but killing a thousand French sailors in the process. When the exiled French president complained about that particular instance of perfidious albionism, President Roosevelt, to add insult to injury, told him he would have done exactly the same in Churchill’s place. Coming from the leader of a nation whose war against British imperialism had inspired the French Revolution this must have been especially galling for de Gaulle. Monsieur Macron is in a much stronger bargaining position, with eight operational nuclear subs of his own, none of them currently under threat of British attack, and it is no secret that he wanted France, rather than Australia, to triangulate America’s new Pacific alliance. But I am reliably informed that the Whitehouse thought FUKUS might be even more likely to provoke an aggressive response from Beijing.
Macron has shown his displeasure by withdrawing his Washington ambassador, but it remains to be seen what action he will take against Australia, which he has still not forgiven for being the first country with whom Britain talked trade after Brexit. France being only Australia’s 17th biggest export market, it is hard to imagine their sanctions wreaking the same kind of economic havoc as China’s – or meeting with the same kind of domestic resistance as the introduction of vaccination passports is now meeting in France. It is unikely les gilets jaunes will riot in the streets of Paris about the disappearance of Hunter Valley chardonnay from their wine lists, for example, or of yabbies from their bouillabaisses. Perhaps they will impose punitive import tariffs on Vegemite, which some French children are believed to prefer to Nutella on their croissants. Ironically, the one Australian commodity France does buy quite a lot of is uranium, the bulk of their electricity being generated by nuclear power stations. But Australia has almost 40 per cent of the world’s uranium, so unless France wants its baguette-baking capacity to be dependent on Kazakhstan, which is believed to have even bigger reserves, they will have to leave that deal in place, much as China has not yet found a viable alternative to Australian iron ore.
But as some residents of Kiev may have said in the days after Chernobyl, it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good, and the French may take consolation from the fact that 35 years after blowing up the Rainbow Warrior, their condemnation of Australia’s behaviour has finally restored good relations with New Zealand, whose Prime Minister has also taken a predictably dim view of AUKUS – partly because it displaces the increasingly ceremonial ANZUS alliance, but mainly because she is what Douglas Murray calls a watermelon – green on the outside but red as Mao’s little book on the inside. As such she does presumably not see Xi Jinping’s China as quite the threat the rest of us do, and perhaps believes that taking the public stand she has taken over AUKUS will ensure New Zealand’s neutrality and safety in the event of Pacific hostilities. And that only when it is discharged of all its Five Eyes obligations will the country she wants to rename Aotearoa be free to develop the only conflict deterrent which is consistent with its current leadership’s values: the world’s biggest, loudest, inkiest, scariest haka.
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