Sylvie Goulard, Minister for Armed Forces, France
It’s an honour and a pleasure, and now a tradition for France to be present at this meeting. Personally, this is my first speech before you, but I am particularly pleased to be the voice of France here, and perhaps also the voice of the Europeans who are not present in this chamber, before the regional partners represented here.
As you know, France has recently chosen a new President of the Republic who is determined to bring a message of openness to the world, a message of respect for the commitments made, and a message of courage and resolution reiterating the need for my country's political and military involvement, when necessary, in favour of international peace and security. That is the spirit of my speech today. I am particularly pleased to interact in this panel with Marise Payne and Tomomi Inada, who represent two major partners of France in this region.
Beyond the historical links which unite Europe and Asia, I do not need to stress the importance of human, economic, climate and political interactions that form the bedrock of our interdependence. France has 1,600,000 nationals in the region, vast territories and an exclusive economic zone stretching over 9 million square kilometres between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. That is why it intends to exercise its responsibility by participating in a constructive and attentive manner in the evolutions of the regional security architecture. France intends to be in this region, I repeat, a powerful contributor to peace and stability. This contribution requires - and this will be the focus of my speech – compliance with the rules, as it has been said several times since last night, and international laws and resolutions of the United Nations Security Council.
France is a permanent member of the Security Council, a founding member of the European Union and a stakeholder in more than twenty international organizations. That is why it attaches a great importance to the respect for the rule of law, which contributes to the security and maintenance of regional and international stability.
I would like to recall here, as a European, that the building of an international law is a lesson of the twentieth century. It is not an achievement, it is a legacy of our predecessors, and its evolution took place after particularly bloody conflicts. That is why all Europeans, I believe, are particularly attached to it - the French and the Germans in the first instance, but all others too. And the codification of the fundamental principles agreed upon by States and peoples constitutes - as we have just been reminded- a guarantee of peace, but also of prosperity. Marise recalled the economic flows and the quality of evolution in recent years throughout this region, the number of people overcoming poverty.
The news reminds us constantly that this international law-based order is not a given, Mr Turnbull said it last night, Mr Mattis repeated it earlier, but that, on the contrary, it is a battle for us all. It is a global struggle. In Europe, too, we know the temptations for violations or risks, the questioning of sovereign States’ borders, new forms of cyber propaganda that are also a concern for democracy and especially confronting us – this was just said - Daesh's irruption and here, John, I agree, it is a new form of threat but no less serious than others, and it is clear that this is creating followers in Europe and on this continent. The fighting over the past few days in Marawi in the Philippines illustrates it harshly. We fully share the concern of a number of countries regarding the question of extraordinarily trained fighters in military theatres and who may return soon, whether to Europe or here. Moreover, we know how Bashar al-Assad’s regime violated international humanitarian law, and in particular in Aleppo, the use of chemical weapons by the regime in April reinforces the importance of our collective commitment to protect our countries from the spread of such weapons.
And coming back to the Asia-Pacific region, I would like to express three major concerns. The first- as has already been said- is the nuclear ambitions of North Korea coupled with a ballistic program that is constantly advancing, challenging regional and international peace and security. North Korea is the only state to have carried out nuclear tests in the twenty-first century, including two last year. We fear another attempt soon. North Korea is also developing cyber-offensive capabilities, which we must monitor closely. Finally, it was suspected for decades of maintaining an offensive program of chemical and biological weapons. North Korea's attitude therefore fuels tensions in a region where we have major interests and where we do not want an arms race to develop. The risks of a military incident for local populations, but also for European nationals in the region, should not be underestimated. That is why we must scrupulously monitor the implementation of the measures put in place by the United Nations, prepare new resolutions where necessary, and at the international level, as well as in the European Union, France will contribute to this.
Our second concern, which has also been said, is the evolution of the situation in the South China Sea, where the importance of the law and the need to respect international principles bears repeating. The consequences of a potential crisis would go well beyond the region, as the South China Sea remains a strategic crossroads. One third of the world's maritime trade passes through this zone. For France and the European Union, which as a whole is a major market power, this issue is crucial. As a maritime power committed to compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, France will ensure its respect in all maritime areas of the world. As I speak, several French naval vessels are deployed in the region, notably the flagship FS Mistral, who is driving with its escort, the frigate Courbet, the Joan of Arc operational mission training of our officers. This naval group spent a total of four months in East Asia before returning to Europe in July.
Despite of all these challenges, we must redouble our vigour in promoting an international order based on law and refuse unilateralism, exceptionalism, which are liable to weaken the cohesion of our action, guided by old, universal and egalitarian principles.
I would like to remind you that the idea that the law must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes, was already recorded in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which did not talk about big fish, small fish and shrimps, but that was already the idea.
On the other hand, the defence of an international rule-based order must not, of course, be synonymous with conservatism or stagnation. The standard may need to evolve, but it must evolve in the framework of friendly, peaceful discussions and in the context of negotiations. What we reject, it is arbitrariness, it is unilateral initiatives, and, above all, it is survival of the fittest.
Last year in this forum, my predecessor Jean-Yves le Drian mentioned the possibility of increasing the regularity of the European presence in the Indo-Pacific space in order to defend the full application of the Law of the Sea and contribute to handling of the challenges of piracy, illegal fishing and various trafficking. This is what we did this year through innovation, as on the Mistral we embarked a British Royal Navy detachment with two helicopters, showing our joint operational know-how and the solidarity of the Europeans. We also invited officials from different countries of the European Union and the European Union itself during the transit of the Mistral in this region. Thus, our European partners have been able to see how France is translating its commitment to defending international law into action, but also the freedom of trade, which must be both free and fair and which was mentioned at the same time by Mr Mattis.
France's action in the Indo-Pacific region is characterized and will continue to be characterized by the regularity of its naval presence; and at the same time, we aim to participate as actively as possible in all political dialogues and to support all legal and diplomatic efforts to resolve disputes.
For ASEAN's 50th anniversary this year, I would like to commend the positive discussions in progress on a framework for a code of conduct with China, as well as tentative agreements on multi-year consultations on regional security issues. The implementation of such mechanisms and ongoing dialogue is an encouraging first step towards stability.
Finally, third concern: beyond the immediate strategic issues that I have just mentioned, I would like to stress the importance of the rules relating to the climate challenge. Today, climate change and the unsustainable use of our ecosystems are weakening our societies. This will have consequences because of the rising waters, because of the disappearance of fishery resources, and also because of the migratory phenomena or tensions that could arise. Climate itself is a major issue and it can also have a security impact and that is why we will continue to be mobilised, as the French forces have been during natural disasters in this region.
Obviously, I cannot discuss the US decision this week. We respect the ruling of the United States, but we can only regret President Trump's decision to step outside the Paris Agreement, a decision that could have far-reaching consequences. As you know, President Macron immediately expressed his concern and determination to continue the struggle and to continue to apply the Paris Agreement in all its dimensions.
I am delighted to see that other States, both European and present in this room, have made the same commitment to continue the fight, as indeed a number of local authorities or actors in American civil society have done, and we will work with all those who so desire. I very much appreciate the fact that this goal was also recalled at the Summit between the European Union and China, which was held yesterday in Brussels. We have subjects of mutual interest, we have areas in which we can continue to be as constructive as possible.
These are just a few examples of ecological and strategic weaknesses, but you can imagine that France, which has been one of the major players in COP21, will continue on this path.
These are, Ladies and Gentlemen, the challenges we face. They are numerous, they are complex, they require differentiated answers but there is only one methodology: to respect the law, to resort to a peaceful settlement of disputes and to defend its lasting order, without which there is no peace or prosperity.
I would like to reiterate to you today that France will remain faithful to its principles, its commitments, and with respect to all of its partners, will contribute in this region, as it intends to do in Europe and at a global level.
Thank you very much.