‘No bloc-to-bloc competition in the Indo-Pacific’
Marc Abensour, the French ambassador for the Indo-Pacific, paid a visit to Korea to seek greater cooperation between Seoul and Paris on maritime security, environmental protection and humanitarian assistance in the wider region.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily at the Four Seasons Hotel in central Seoul on Thursday, Abensour stressed that Indo-Pacific strategies “should not lead to bloc-to-bloc competition or the building of spheres of influence” and emphasized the importance of multilateralism and the international rules-based order to foster positive and sustainable development in the region.
A career diplomat with particular expertise in Asian affairs, political and military issues, Abensour is France’s second-ever ambassador for the Indo-Pacific, a position that was created to foster inter-ministerial and inter-agency coordination and communication between France and partner countries in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
The following is an edited excerpt of the interview.
We therefore play a leading role within the European Union (EU) to promote the engagement of European countries within the Indo-Pacific. We did that most visibly during the presidency of the EU, when we organized the Indo-Pacific ministerial forum last February, which the minister of foreign affairs from Korea also attended.
My position mainly involves coordinating communication and action between all the different ministries. While execution of the French Indo-Pacific strategy mainly lies with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it also requires input and action from ministries in charge the economy, finance, defense, environment and health, as well as the development agency.
I’m also responsible for coordination with EU institutions because the European dimension of our strategy is absolutely critical, especially in executing key initiatives like Crimario, which is a program on maritime domain awareness that we have been developing with key partners in the Indian Ocean. When we organized the forum for EU ministers last February, it was agreed we would expand our cooperation further to Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.
Both our countries have a very inclusive approach when it comes to the Indo-Pacific in that we both want to avoid further geopolitical polarization of the region, and we are very eager to capitalize on this convergence to develop a positive agenda focused on key common elements of both countries’ strategies, which include climate change, protecting biodiversity, sustainable ocean management, energy transition, healthcare and maritime security.
This kind of partnership enables cooperation on concrete issues so that all countries gain resilience and autonomy. For example, by developing programs to combat illegal fishing and defining an appropriate regulatory framework, we can provide a country with the tools to guard its maritime sovereignty. We see that Korea is on the same page as us, and the adoption of the new strategy by Seoul is a mutual opportunity that we shouldn’t miss.
As for how to deal with China, the EU has outlined a strategy based on the mantra of “partnership, competition and systemic rivalry.” Our Indo-Pacific strategy rests on this EU strategy as well. Just as the Korean strategy refers to China as a key partner, our approach is partially based on engagement with China on some key global challenges, such as climate change and protection of biodiversity.
But we also need to engage China on some regional concerns, like North Korea, Iran and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and especially about how China can contribute to apply increased pressure on Russia. It’s important to continue discussing with China on how to manage a wide range of issues.
While France believes it’s legitimate and important for NATO to engage in dialogue and consultations with AP4 countries (Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Australia) in order to exchange views on security challenges in the region, this should not lead to an extension of NATO activities into the Indo-Pacific. NATO ultimately is a security organization dealing with issues arising in the Euro-Atlantic region.
One element of our security contribution to the Indo-Pacific is the regular deployment of French navy vessels and our air force to the region, such as the Jeanne D’Arc task group, which is currently in the Indian Ocean. This regular naval circumnavigation of the globe by French forces creates opportunities for France to engage in joint exercises with partners in the Indo-Pacific, which not only increases interoperability, but also helps secure access, freedom of navigation and freedom of flight.
France and its European partners are also in the process of implementing a coordinated multinational maritime presence in the northwestern Indian Ocean. Once such a mechanism in place, we can also implement it in the South Pacific as well. This area is also one where France and Korea can join efforts.
We also noted with great interest the coming summit between Korea and the Pacific islands, to which Korea also invited French territories, like French Polynesia and New Caledonia. We believe such meetings will contribute to the regional engagement of our territories and aid in the implementation of initiatives concerning climate change and biodiversity that I have discussed with my Korean counterparts.
France is also deeply concerned by North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, which are in flagrant violation of the United Nations Security Council’s resolutions. We view these as a significant threat to international security.
Our primary objective remains the achievement of complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea, and we will continue to exact pressure to bring Pyongyang back to the negotiation table. This is the path we are pursuing resolutely with EU members.
In the case of a seventh nuclear test by North Korea, we will play our part to secure a firm, coherent and united response from the international community.
BY SARAH KIM,MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]