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AUKUS: France recalls its ambassadors to US and Australia in submarine deal backlash

France's Ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thebault gestures as he arrives at Sydney Airport/photo courtesy: The Associated Press

France on Friday recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia in a protest over the scrapping of a submarine contract, an unprecedented step that revealed the extent of French anger against its allies.

“This has been a huge mistake, a very, very bad handling of the partnership,” French envoy Jean-Pierre Thebault said, explaining that the arms agreement between Paris and Canberra was supposed to be based “on trust, mutual understanding and sincerity."

The rare diplomatic backlash against France's allies came two days after Australia announced the scrapping of a major purchase of French conventional submarines in favour of US nuclear-powered submarines.

Australia in 2016 had chosen France's Naval Group, partly owned by the state, to build 12 conventionally powered submarines, based on France's Barracuda nuclear-powered subs in development.

The contract was worth around 50 billion Australian dollars when announced in 2016.

But on Wednesday, US President Joe Biden, along with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, announced a new US security alliance between their countries that would develop an Australian nuclear-powered submarine fleet.

This alliance AUKUS has been strongly condemned by France, with Le Drian calling it 'a stab in the back '. But the US reiterated that France was a 'vital ally'. The agreement is widely seen as an effort to counter China's influence in the contested South China Sea.

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