The French government on Thursday criticised Australia’s decision to scrap a submarine deal between the two countries and instead signing a fresh contract with the United States and the United Kingdom, AFP reported.

On Wednesday, Washington and Britain announced a trilateral pact, under which Australia will receive a nuclear-powered submarine fleet from the US.

The Australian government entered the deal by scrapping a 2016 agreement, under which it had selected French shipbuilder Naval Group to build a new submarine fleet worth $40 billion (over Rs 2.94 lakh crore).

Experts said that the US-UK-Australia deal was significant as it focused on the concerns of these countries about China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

“This [the deal] will allow [Australia’s] Department of Defence to meet its mission to protect Australia and its national interests, and that of our regional friends, into the future,” the country’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a tweet.

However, France strongly opposed the deal.

“It is really a stab in the back,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told France Info Radio, according to AFP. “We had established a relationship of trust with Australia, this trust has been betrayed.

Le Drian also criticised the US for its “unilateral, sudden and unforeseeable decision” and compared the move to “something [former US President Donald] Trump would do”.

“I am very angry today, and bitter...this is not something allies do to each other,” the French foreign minister said.

France itself holds overseas territories of New Caledonia and French Polynesia in the Indo-Pacific region.

On Thursday, Le Drian said that the country and its allies had been working on a “coherent and structured Indo-Pacific policy” to deal with China’s growing clout.

“We had been discussing that with the United States just recently, and here comes this break,” Le Drian said, adding that the tripartite deal was a “huge breach of trust”.

Meanwhile, China also called the deal an “extremely irresponsible” threat to regional stability.

“The agreement seriously undermines regional peace and stability and intensifies the arms race,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a press briefing on Thursday.

Significance of the US-UK-Australia deal

Senior Director of Defence and National Security at Australia’s Northern Territory government Guy Boekenstein told the BBC that the deal showed that the three countries were “drawing a line in the sand” to counter China’s “aggressive moves in the Indo-Pacific”.

Even though India is not a direct party to the nuclear submarine deal, it remains a partner of the US and Australia along with Japan in the newly formed Quad grouping.

At the first virtual summit of the leaders of the Quad in March, US President Joe Biden had said that the four nations will work closely for promoting a stable Indo-Pacific region.

Experts quoted by the BBC on the US-UK-Australia deal also pointed out the importance of nuclear submarines as a weapon.

“Only six countries in the world have nuclear submarines,” said Michael Shoebridge, Director of Defence, Strategy and National Security at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. “A nuclear submarine has enormous defence capabilities and therefore ramifications for the region. Only six countries in the world have nuclear submarines.”

Yun Sun, Co-Director of the East Asia Programme at thinktank agency Stimson Center said that the move showed that the US and UK were willing to nuclear technology to a non-nuclear nation like Australia.