France, the Other Indo-Pacific Power

France, the Other Indo-Pacific Power

On May 3, 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron made the term “Indo-Pacific” a concept of French foreign policy for the first time—shortly after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had publicly dismissed the concept as an “attention-grabbing idea” that “will dissipate like ocean foam.”1

Macron’s speech, given at the Garden Island military base in Sydney, Australia, differed substantially in its objectives and content from President Donald Trump’s introduction of his own Indo-Pacific strategy in November 2017. Each strategy unveiled underlines that the United States’ and China’s radically opposing interests, in the Indo-Pacific and globally, are a central driver of contemporary international relations. However, naturally, France and the United States take different positions on the state of affairs. While both countries oppose China’s hegemonic designs, France is uncomfortable with the widening gulf between the United States and China.

France’s approach to the Indo-Pacific aims to protect the country’s international position and its specific interests—notably, in the overseas territories that anchor and give credibility to the French strategy. But the strategy’s implementation, a delicate exercise, will continually require French decisionmakers to have a clear vision of these interests and to avoid any rhetoric or dangerous confrontation with China while maintaining a central—but not exclusive—place for the United States in its traditional system of alliances.