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Blinken to meet with French officials to further repair breach in relationship over Aukus

October 1, 2021 GMT

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet with French officials in Paris next week while chairing an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) conference, the latest step aimed at repairing a key bilateral relationship that frayed last month when President Joe Biden announced a new military alliance with Britain and Australia.

Previewed on Friday by Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs assistant secretary Karen Donfried and Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs senior official Matt Murray, Blinken’s talks with the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, will be part of “a process of in-depth consultations going forward”, Donfried said. The OECD meeting will cover, among other issues, “the behaviours of non-market economies, including China”.

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Blinken’s three days in Paris will start on Monday, and will follow a diplomatic blitz by Biden administration officials on Friday.

“We agree that the September 15 announcement would have benefited from better and more open consultation among allies,” Donfried said, reiterating the message that Blinken and other senior Biden administration officials have made following the diplomatic crisis that ensued after news of the so-called Aukus partnership.

“We recognise this will take time and will take hard work, and it will need to be demonstrated not only in words but also in deeds,” she added, saying that Blinken “will emphasise how the Franco-American partnership is one of our strongest and most enduring bilateral relationships”.

The two sides began to make amends last week, during a call between Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron, in which they agreed that France’s ambassador would return to Washington. Ambassador Philippe Etienne had left the US capital two days after the surprise introduction of Aukus, which cancelled Australia’s US$66 billion purchase of French submarines.

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During the OECD’s Ministerial Council Meeting ” at which US Trade Representative Katherine Tai and top US climate envoy John Kerry will also participate ” Blinken will commemorate the organisation’s 60th anniversary before tackling many of the issues that were discussed at the inaugural meeting Thursday of the United States-European Union Trade and Technology Council in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Other issues on the agenda with French officials and at the OECD meeting include integrating security strategies in the Indo-Pacific region, a key focus of Biden administration diplomacy recently and a stated objective of Aukus, which Beijing has denounced as an “extremely irresponsible” partnership that risks spurring an arms race.

Biden and Blinken “have been very open about their focus on revitalising alliances and partnerships to support the rules-based international order”, Donfried said.

“That means the strengthening of long-standing historic ties, including with our Nato allies and the EU, as well as working through new configurations such as the Quad or Aukus, and our goal here is to have a network of alliances and partnerships that will continue to be our greatest source of strength.”

Last week, Biden hosted the prime ministers of Australia, India and Japan ” Scott Morrison, Narendra Modi and Yoshihide Suga ” in the first in-person meeting of the Quad partnership, another new alliance that has angered Beijing.

In an effort to counter China’s Belt and Road global infrastructure initiative, the group will also discuss standards for investment in infrastructure projects ” known as the ” Blue Dot Network ” ” that Washington is promoting as an alternative.

“We want to work together with many of our like-minded partners and allies to raise the standards for infrastructure development and to help ensure that infrastructure investment is open and inclusive, transparent, and financially environmentally and socially sustainable,” Murray said.

The Biden administration’s efforts to get Washington’s new and long-standing alliances and multilateral associations ” including Nato, the OECD, the European Union, the Quad and Aukus ” to help counter China on multiple fronts “has put Beijing in a reactive mode”, said Yun Sun, director of the China Programme at the Stimson Centre, a Washington think tank.

That reactivity has involved high-level diplomacy with the EU even as Washington pushes its agenda, including the first meeting between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, in more than a year on Tuesday.

While the two sides jostled over human rights and outstanding issues around Taiwan, Borrell noted in an official readout that “the EU and China needed to continue engaging intensively in a number of important areas”.

Sun noted that “on the success or failure by both US and China to pull these countries in the middle into their orbits, the assessment is not binary.

“Both powers have some successes to boast of, but also with weaknesses beyond their control,” she said.

“The EU shares US aspiration on values, tech and China’s unfair trade practice ” but it apparently is not willing to treat China as the ultimate evil and enemy,” Sun added.

Washington’s outreach to allies continued on other fronts on Friday.

Ely Ratner, the assistant secretary of defence for Indo-Pacific security affairs, spoke with Japan’s director general for defence policy Kazuo Masuda and South Korea’s deputy minister for national defence policy Kim Man-gi.

During the call, which focused on regional security and the “nuclear and missile threat” posed by North Korea, the three officials “reaffirmed the importance of trilateral security cooperation and committed to explore high-level exchanges, including a trilateral defence ministerial”.

Also on Friday, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman inaugurated a “US-Switzerland Strategic Partnership Dialogue” in Bern with Swiss State Secretary Livia Leu, according to the State Department.

The two discussed “areas of bilateral interest and cooperation, including trade and investment, digitalisation and cybersecurity, democracy and human rights, and clean energy and the climate crisis” as well as “pressing global issues, including Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, and the People’s Republic of China”, department spokesman Ned Price said.

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia. For more SCMP stories, please download our mobile app, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

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