Australia: ‘Forefront of tensions': Macron offers Morrison France's support in China row

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Paris: French President Emmanuel Macron has condemned China for using economic coercion to intimidate Australia, labelling the tactics a "flagrant breach" of international law.

French President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Scott Morrison pose before dinner at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France on June 15. © Getty French President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Scott Morrison pose before dinner at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France on June 15.

Welcoming Prime Minister Scott Morrison to the Élysée Palace on Tuesday evening local-time, Macron offered some of the strongest public backing of any world leader since the disintegration of the relationship between Canberra and the rising superpower.

"You are at the forefront of the tensions that exist in the region, of the threats, and sometimes of the intimidation, and I want to reiterate here how much we stand by your side," the President said.

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"I would like to reiterate how committed France remains to defending the balance in the Indo-Pacific region and how much we consider the partnership we have with Australia to be at the heart of this Indo-Pacific strategy.

"As a token of friendship and solidarity, and as we discussed together during the G7, we firmly reject any coercive economic measures taken against Australia in flagrant violation of international law."

Macron did not name any country specifically but his unusually strong language and repeated mentions of the Indo-Pacific were obvious references to China.

The regime of President Xi Jinping has applied trade bans and tariffs on more than $20 billion worth of Australian exports recently after Canberra ramped up its criticism of Beijing.

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Earlier in London, British Prime Minister also backed Australia in its tussle with Beijing but warned the world still had to work with it.

"We stand shoulder to shoulder with our friends," Johnson told reporters at Downing Street.

"But I think I probably speak for Scott as well when I say nobody wants to descend into a new Cold War with China. We don't see that as the way forward.

"This is a difficult relationship where it is vital to engage with China in as positive a way as we can."

Asked what aspects of China's behaviour concerned him most, Johnson nominated its treatment of the Uighurs, the people of Hong Kong, and the way it acts towards the region and Australia in particular.

Tuesday's comments by Macron and Johnson capped off a significant week on the international community's response to China.

The G7 summit in Britain condemned Beijing for human rights abuses and its use of "non-market policies and practices which undermine" the global economy, while NATO also declared China poses "systemic challenges" to international order.

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After arriving at the French President's official Paris residence for a working dinner, Morrison praised Macron as one of Europe's most substantial leaders.

"The work you have done in supporting and standing with Australia as we go through some difficult times Indo-Pacific - we greatly appreciate that," he said.

Morrison landed in Paris on Tuesday after earlier announcing an in-principle agreement had been struck for a new free trade deal between Australia and Britain.

The Prime Minister is expected to use the dinner with Macron to raise the government's dissatisfaction with the troubled $90 billion deal with French company Naval Group for a fleet of new submarines.

Defence earlier this month confirmed it was looking at alternatives if the agreement does not go ahead.

Macron called the submarines a "pillar of our partnership and of the relationship of trust between our two countries".

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