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France Rages at AUKUS Sub Snub

As French officials complain of being blindsided over submarine deal, Australia says it communicated its reservations clearly.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
A new nuclear submarine is seen in France.
A new nuclear submarine called “Suffren” is seen in the Naval Group shipyard in Cherbourg, northwestern France, ahead of its unveiling ceremony on July 12, 2019. Ludovic Marin/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: France rages at new submarine pact, Russia begins legislative elections, and Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party leadership battle commences.

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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: France rages at new submarine pact, Russia begins legislative elections, and Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party leadership battle commences.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Starting today, FP will publish its pop-up U.N. Brief, giving you a first-hand look at events during the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Sign up here to get it in your inbox.

Also today, my colleagues Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer will preview proceedings with a live conference call, beginning at 11 a.m. EDT.

France and China Denounce AUKUS Deal

The U.S. decision to jump ahead of France in providing Australia with new submarines as part of a new trilateral so-called AUKUS defense pact has caused outrage in Paris. Although the move is not going to lose U.S. President Joe Biden any support on Capitol Hill or with the American public, it may have longer term effects that drive the United States and Europe further apart when it comes to China policy.

France has made a public show of indignation since the decision was announced, with French officials claiming they were only given a few hours notice. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian criticized a “unilateral, brutal, unpredictable decision” and likened it to the behavior of previous U.S. President Donald Trump.

France communicated its disgust by canceling a gala celebration in Washington to commemorate the 240th anniversary of a French naval victory over a British fleet during the U.S. Revolutionary War. Ironically, an event with a French submarine docking in a U.S. naval port in Virginia will still be part of the celebrations.

Europe alone. It’s not hard to see why France would want to make a show of losing out on a deal worth $55 billion, but the move also plays into larger insecurity over a perceived Anglophone club of nations (think the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing partnership) that sits above other alliances. As Le Drian stated following the snub, it reinforced “the need to make the issue of European strategic autonomy loud and clear.”

EU foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell seems to be in agreement, saying the AUKUS deal means the European Union must “exist for ourselves, since the others exist for themselves.”

Down-underhanded? Whether Australia was ever dead set on the French deal is in dispute. In June, Greg Moriarty, the most senior civil servant in Australia’s defense department, hinted at a Senate hearing that other options were being considered, citing “challenges” over the past year.

Speaking on Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he made clear to French President Emmanuel Macron in June that the project could be in jeopardy, going against French claims of being blindsided. (A joint statement issued only two weeks ago expressing commitment to the French-Australian project undermines his position.)

China’s challenge. China has taken the obvious challenge to its naval plans seriously. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the decision set an “extremely irresponsible” double standard and raised the risks of nuclear proliferation. The state-run Global Times, an English-language newspaper with a hawkish and bombastic tone, was blunt—saying the move makes Australian troops “most likely to be the first batch of Western soldiers to waste their lives in the South China Sea.”

Rather than get mad, however, China is taking steps to get even on a different playing field. On Thursday, it formally applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, an 11-member Pacific trade pact the United States withdrew from in 2017.

India’s options. As C. Raja Mohan writes in Foreign Policy, it’s not all theatrical indignation. India stands to gain from the deal as it contributes to “New Delhi’s own quest for a stable balance of power in the Indo-Pacific.” It could also mean France ends up producing submarines for India instead.

What We’re Following Today

Russia’s elections. Russians go to the polls today to elect a new State Duma, Russia’s legislative body, in elections that end on Sunday. As Matthew Luxmoore wrote in a Moscow dispatch for Foreign Policy, the election campaign has been unusually reserved: “Signs of the coming election are so scant the authorities seem to be doing their utmost to ensure it passes unnoticed.”

The ruling United Russia party is expected to win easily, and an impressive turnout would underline its legitimacy. Sensing apathy, Russian President Vladimir Putin urged voters on Thursday to turn out this weekend, saying it was “without doubt the most important event in the life of our society and our country.”

Japan’s next leader. The race to succeed Yoshihide Suga as the Liberal Democratic Party leader and likely next prime minister has officially started ahead of a Sept. 29 party ballot. Four candidates have entered the contest, with vaccines minister Taro Kono considered the frontrunner. Former Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida is likely to provide a challenge while former ministers Sanae Takaichi and Seiko Noda will both seek to win an upset victory. A poll taken last week showed Kono with 27 percent support from the Japanese public; his next closest competitor, Shigeru Ishiba, polled at 17 percent and endorsed Kono earlier this week.

Keep an Eye On

The CELAC summit. This weekend, 16 heads of state will convene in Mexico City for a meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), a 32-member body formed by the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in 2011. The meeting is expected to lead to a proposal to reform—or replace—the Organization of American States, a body that some left-leaning leaders see as too closely aligned with the interests of the United States.

The CELAC summit will serve as a meeting point for many newly installed leftist leaders in the region, with Peruvian President Pedro Castillo and Bolivian President Luis Arce set to attend alongside more established leaders like Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel. Argentinian President Alberto Fernández will not attend, as he faces a cabinet revolt after poor primary results.

Guinea sanctions. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed sanctions on Guinea’s coup leaders on Thursday as member states set a timeline for a democratic transition. ECOWAS leaders have given Guinea’s junta six months to form a new government as they froze the coup plotters bank accounts and banned them from travel. Talks to form a transitional government began this week in the Guinean capital, Conakry.

Odds and Ends

Berliners go to the polls this Sunday to decide whether to expropriate the property of the city’s so-called mega landlords in a move that could put 240,000 apartments under public ownership.

The initiative has been brought to Berlin’s voters by Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co., a campaign to tackle the city’s skyrocketing rents by publicly purchasing the housing stock of rental companies that own more than 3,000 units. Campaigners say any cost incurred in the expropriation would be paid back over time by renters. Proponents say that will come to $9.4 billion; opponents say it would be closer to $35 billion.

Large landlords, along with conservative politicians, are against the initiative and say they will challenge its constitutionality in court if it passes. The German constitution does allow for expropriation for public good, but it has yet to be applied on such a scale.

Kalle Kunkel, one of the campaign’s organizers, sees victory no matter which way Sunday’s vote goes. “We want to make the roughly 250,000 apartments currently in the hands of finance-focused actors affordable in the long term, so that people won’t get displaced,” Kunkel told Euronews. “And a side effect of the campaign is that speculation in Berlin is seen as being dangerous, which I think is a good thing,”

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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