French president Emmanuel Macron has accused Scott Morrison of sparking a “nuclear confrontation” with China by scrapping a French submarine deal in favour of nuclear subs.
Mr Macron was left furious when former Australian prime minister Mr Morrison tore up a $90 billion contract with France in favour of nuclear submarines developed by the UK or the US, as part of the new AUKUS defence pact.
The French president launched his attack on Mr Morrison after meeting his successor Anthony Albanese at the G20 summit in Bali.
He said the French deal would have helped Australia achieve “freedom and sovereignty”.
And he said the French-made diesel submarines were “not confrontational to China because they are not nuclear-powered submarines”.
“But the choice made by prime minister Morrison was the opposite, re-entering into nuclear confrontation, making himself completely dependent by deciding to equip themselves [with a] submarine fleet that the Australians are incapable of producing and maintaining in-house,” Mr Macron said.
The AUKUS deal gives Australia ccess to American and British nuclear technology.
The eight submarines – expected to be operational by the mid-2030s – are nuclear-powered but will not carry nuclear warheads.
China has repeatedly voiced its displeasure with AUKUS, and its deputy ambassador to Australia Wang Xining branded Australia a “naughty guy” in the wake of the new deal.
He added that Australia would be seen as a “sabre wielder” rather than a “peace defender” in the Pacific.
China’s foreign affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian said at the time: “The nuclear submarine cooperation between the US, the UK, and Australia has seriously undermined regional peace and stability, intensified the arms race and undermined international non-proliferation efforts.
“The three countries should discard the Cold War zero-sum mentality and narrow geopolitical perspective”.
Mr Macron accused Mr Morrison of lying to him when the French deal was scrapped.
Since his election, Mr Albanese has been trying to repair Australia’s relationship with Paris.