Senior Australian ministers to visit France, Britain to boost ties

SYDNEY, (Reuters) – Australia’s defence and foreign ministers on Sunday said they aimed to deepen security ties with France and Britain during visits to Europe this week, flagging the Indo-Pacific as a key area of focus.

The ministers’ trip from Jan. 30 to Feb. 2 will comprise Australia-France Foreign and Defence Ministerial Consultations in Paris, and Australia-United Kingdom Ministerial Consultations in London and Portsmouth, the ministers said in a statement. Australia has moved to bolster relations in the Pacific as China’s influence grows, including a security pact between China and Solomon Islands struck last year.

In France, discussions will focus on “the increasingly challenging strategic environment in the Indo-Pacific and in Europe”, while meetings in Britain would cover modernising the bilateral relationship, tackling climate change, building economic resilience and global peace and security. Foreign Minister Penny Wong will also meet with European Union officials in Brussels, while Defence Minister Richard Marles will afterwards travel to the United States to meet with Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin, according to the statement.

“Deepening practical cooperation with France in the Indo-Pacific, reflecting the priorities of our partners, is critical to our vision of regional stability,” Wong said of the visit. Marles said he looked forward to talks in France and Britain on Indo-Pacific security and continued support for Ukraine, and with his British counterpart on AUKUS – the deal between the United States, Britain and Australia to provide Australia with technology for conventionally armed nuclear-powered submarines.

“The visit to the United Kingdom also provides an important opportunity to discuss AUKUS,” Marles said.

This month, Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the government remained on a “very positive” footing on the AUKUS security pact, despite reports of U.S. concerns that the deal would damage America’s industrial base.