The Committee received a great deal of evidence on enhancing security and other cooperation with France in the Indo-Pacific region, with the amount of evidence lending itself to a separate chapter. Cooperation in the region which is not security related is included in other chapters. This chapter will detail the interests of Australia and France in the region, the changing strategic environment, including security challenges as well as opportunities for further collaboration.
An area of shared interest
Promoting a stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific was recognised as a priority in the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) Annual Report 2018-19, also noted:
The Indo-Pacific is our home and the region that will have the greatest impact on Australia’s future prosperity and security. It encompasses our major trading, strategic and development partners.
More recently, the Defence Strategic Update released in July 2020 indicated that the Government will continue 'strengthening our regional engagement across the Indo-Pacific, including through the Pacific Step Up …'.
Australia and France have a range of shared interests in the Indo-Pacific region which make strong strategic engagement important to both countries. DFAT confirmed that 'Indo-Pacific engagement is another key pillar of our strategic cooperation with France'.
The Department of Defence (Defence) detailed that the shared interests in the region include:
… a shared belief in promoting adherence to international rules and norms, supporting open markets and economies, and helping enable countries in the region to be more resilient in the face of both natural disasters and foreign coercion.
The Embassy of France emphasised that '[w]ith overseas territories and more than 1.5 million French citizens living in the Indo-Pacific, France has significant interests in this region of the world'. In addition:
Australia and France are neighbors in the Pacific, the Indian Ocean and Antarctica. Australia is a major Defence partner for France and our Defence cooperation plays a central role in the strategic partnership that our two countries have been building since 2016.
His Excellency Mr Christophe Penot, the French Ambassador to Australia, outlined four strategic priorities of France in the Indo-Pacific region:
protect sovereign status;
promote a stable regional environment through partnerships such as with Australia;
secure free and open access to the international sea lanes; and
multilateral action to foster strategic stability, an area where France can also work with Australia.
Dr David Brewster and Dr Frédéric Grare highlighted that 'France increasingly sees Australia as a key strategic partner in the Indian Ocean and there are many opportunities for enhanced cooperation in that region'. They advocated that 'Australia and France should actively develop their partnership to help build effective regional security architecture in the Indian Ocean, in cooperation with other like-minded partners'.
Mr Peter Jennings PSM, Executive Director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, appearing in a private capacity, also pointed to an increase of French interest in this region:
What I can see there is that there is actually now a stronger French defence interest in the Indo-Pacific, informed by a policy statement that they produced a couple of years ago on France's interests in this part of the world.
Changing strategic environment
Ambassador Penot indicated that the Australia-France partnership is shaped by the evolution of the strategic environment, stating that:
Our common values, our conception of a rules based international order and the importance we both attach to international norms are all increasingly challenged, and this deconstruction that has been at work for the past four years will probably accelerate with the current COVID crisis. So I do believe that France and Australia have a special responsibility there to ensure that the world post COVID does not become worse and, if possible, that it becomes better than the world before.
In this context, Ambassador Penot stressed the need to support strong multilateral institutions:
… particularly to organise an efficient response to the COVID crisis and its economic impact. The COVID pandemic has been a wake-up call which reminds us that our collective security and prosperity are best protected by enhanced international cooperation. We welcome very much the results of the recent audit of Australia's engagement in key multilateral institutions.
This position was recognised by Dr Brewster and Dr Grare:
France increasingly sees Australia as a key strategic partner in the Indian Ocean. France sees Australia as a like-minded country and one of the very few regional states that are capable of contributing substantively to the stability of the region. Australia is also viewed in Paris as a country that sees stability through the same prism and effective multilateralism as the way to ensure it. France sees Australia as playing a key role in advancing regional institutions and intends to partner with it in order to make them more effective in the future.
Dr Brewster and Dr Grare noted that the French perspective on Australia's role in the Indian Ocean was reflected in the Vision Statement on the Australia‑France Relationship where the leaders committed to:
strengthening the Indian Ocean region’s architecture and enhancing regional collaboration on shared security and other challenges;
cooperating closely and with like-minded partners to bolster regional maritime security; and
involving other strategic partners more broadly in the growing cooperation between France and Australia, including through trilateral and other high‑level dialogues.
The recently released 2020 Defence Strategic Update outlined in detail the changing strategic environment in the region, highlighting strategic competition, primarily between the United States and China, playing out across the Indo-Pacific and increasingly in Australia's immediate region. The document points out that since 2016:
… major powers have become more assertive in advancing their strategic preferences and seeking to exert influence, including China’s active pursuit of greater influence in the Indo-Pacific.
This change was also noted by Dr Brewster and Dr Grare:
… after several decades of US military predominance, the Indian Ocean is now becoming a much more contested strategic space, driven by the relative decline in US predominance, the emergence of India as a major power, and China’s growing economic and military presence.
The 2020 Defence Strategic Update details a number of trends in the security environment which include:
the establishment of military bases which could undermine stability in the Indo-Pacific and Australia's immediate region;
countries pursuing strategic interests through coercive activities, including espionage, interference and economic levers;
'grey zone' activities being adopted and integrated into statecraft and being applied in ways that challenge sovereignty and habits of cooperation;
the rules, norms and institutions that help maintain peace and security and guide global cooperation are under strain;
many countries in the Indo-Pacific are accelerating military modernisation;
emerging and disruptive technologies will be rapidly translated into weapons systems;
expanding cyber capabilities and a willingness to use them maliciously;
threats to human security and state fragility; and
the threat from terrorism and violent extremism.
The document summarises that:
The trends set out above signal a security environment markedly different from the relatively more benign one of the past, with greater potential for military miscalculation, including state-on-state conflict that could engage the ADF.
In describing the key challenges of the strategic environment, an increasingly assertive China was highlighted in the evidence to the Committee. Mr Jennings indicated:
We need to be talking more about China and in particular how Australia and France, as two leading democracies, are positioning to deal with a more assertive Beijing.
Dr Brewster and Dr Grare pointed to China's Belt and Road Initiative as having the:
… potential to fundamentally alter the strategic dynamics of the region by effectively transforming China from a power with a small Indian Ocean presence into a fully resident power. Australia’s understandable concerns regarding China’s influence operations in the Pacific islands have diverted its attention from similar contests that are occurring among Indian Ocean states.
Dr Pascale Quester, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic), University of Adelaide provided the following view:
Just to say that, having been alongside President Macron when he came in 2017, it is pretty clear that, from the French perspective, finding reliable friends in the Indonesia-Pacific region is actually one of the responses towards what is perceived as the growth of the influence of China.
Mr Jennings spoke in more detail about France's relationship with China:
I think France has been on a journey, like everyone else in the last few years, coming to the realisation of what China was turning itself into. The Europeans tend not to have as sharp a strategic focus as Australia does, I guess for obvious strategic reasons and reasons of geography. But France has certainly been subject to cyberattack and intellectual property theft, as we have, because there is a great level of Chinese interest in French defence industry and French industry generally. I think that has led President Macron to be very cautious about those connections with China. They've taken a reasonably strong stand on protecting the French 5G system as that unfolds. So I think there's a lot that we actually have in common with France in terms of thinking about China, and we could get significant benefit by sharing our ideas with them about how to protect our interests—for example, around protecting universities from cyberattack, protecting defence industry from cyberattack. So there is an important bilateral opportunity there.
In addition, across Europe, particularly with the European Union (EU), Mr Jennings saw 'a hardening of EU positions with regard to China':
Really what is emerging there is it is the democracies which are sort of gathering together to work out how to deal with this more assertive authoritarian China that we didn't want and we didn't necessarily think we were going to get but has certainly been delivered by Xi Jinping since 2012.
Dr Brewster and Dr Grare pointed out that it is not just China being more assertive in the region. They noted that 'Russia is becoming increasingly active in the western Indian Ocean, including attempts to interfere in Madagascan political life'. In addition:
… there are also worrying signs of growing strategic cooperation between Russia and China in the western Indian Ocean that could presage a new regional axis between them. This has included trilateral China-Russia-South Africa naval exercises off Cape Town in November 2019 and trilateral China-Russia-Iran naval exercises in the Gulf of Oman in December 2019. There is a risk that Sino-Russian cooperation could be expanded into coordination in influence operations against weak and vulnerable states in the region or potentially even in the sharing of logistical facilities for military purposes.
Environmental threats affecting the security environment
The National Security College (NSC) at the Australian National University advised that the interaction of environmental and geopolitical threats have the potential to lead to a further deterioration of the security environment.
The NSC was commissioned by DFAT to map environmental risks relating to the Eastern Indian Ocean and Southern Ocean/Antarctica to 'help understand and anticipate the security consequences of climate phenomena and propose areas of enhanced cooperation among like‑minded partners'. The results were published in a report titled: Environmental security in the eastern Indian Ocean, Antarctica and the Southern Ocean: A risk mapping approach.
The NSC report identifies the following risks as some of the key environmental challenges to the eastern Indian Ocean: marine pollution, growing competition for fish resources, declining marine living resources, and natural disasters or extreme weather events.
As important maritime powers in the Indian Ocean, the NSC saw an opportunity for Australia and France to cooperate in relation to these environmental threats by joining with other like-minded countries to establish an Indian Ocean Environmental Security Forum (IOESF).
The NSC explained that the purpose of the IOESF would be to 'bring together representatives from military and civilian agencies across the Indian Ocean region to create shared understandings on environmental security threats and help establish habits of dialogue in the field of environmental security'.
Dr Brewster provided more detail to the Committee:
This would very much follow the pattern established by the US sponsored Pacific Environmental Security Forum, which brings together countries right around the Pacific, including Australia, very specific island states and Asian countries, including China, to discuss environmental security threats and create these shared understandings in a non-partisan environment, if you like. I think the Indian Ocean has a similar sort of need. I think Australia and France can really take the lead on that.
Enhancing cooperation in the region
Witnesses saw opportunities to increase cooperation between Australia and France to respond to the changing strategic environment and key security challenges in the area. The NSC explained the need for enhanced cooperation between Australia and France to address:
… multiple security challenges in the Indian Ocean and Southern Ocean/Antarctica. Australia and France, together with India, are among the leading states proximate to this region and often have the strongest capabilities to respond to a range of threats. It makes eminent sense for Australia and France – and where possible, other partners such as India – to cooperate in addressing those threats.
Ambassador Penot pointed to the strong bilateral cooperation in the South Pacific:
Our overseas territories play a more active role, having become full members of the Pacific Islands Forum, and we hold regular consultations on the Pacific between our foreign ministries and our defence ministries and in the framework of our security dialogue. We support the Australian Pacific Step-up policy, and together we can make an impact on maritime security, disaster relief, humanitarian assistance, climate change, the environment and biodiversity. I cannot stress enough the importance of the cooperation between France and Australia in this regional context.
Ambassador Penot noted that compared to the Pacific, he also saw the potential for more engagement in relation to the Indian Ocean:
The Indian Ocean has not been explored, potentially, as a bilateral cooperation area between France and Australia, compared to the Pacific, where we have worked together for many years in mechanisms such as the accords and so on. But we believe that it is very promising and any avenue should be used to encourage and promote regional stability, which is our objective.
Defence noted the range of shared mutual interests of Australia and France in the Indo-Pacific and the importance of engagement in this region:
We share similar perspectives on the region's current opportunities and challenges, and on how our elements of national power—including our respective defence forces—can help secure our regional interests.
Defence welcomed the release of France and Security in the Indo-Pacific by the French Ministry of Armed Forces in September 2019 which identifies France's main security challenges in the Indo-Pacific region. As a country with substantial interests in the region, it sets out France's policy on defence and security for its territories and maintenance of stability within the framework of an international order centred on dialogue and the respect of multilaterally set rules. The strategy involves developing a network of strategic partnerships in the Indo-Pacific, including Australia. Defence provided further detail on the elements of the strategy concerning Australia:
Australia is listed in the strategy as one of the priority strategic partnerships for France in the Indo-Pacific, including in the foreword by the French Minister for the Armed Forces, Florence Parly.
The strategy refers to France’s cooperation with Australia and New Zealand through the FRANZ Agreement, which enables the three countries to coordinate humanitarian assistance activities in the South Pacific.
Australia is referenced as a member of the Pacific QUAD (Quadrilateral Defence Coordination Group), along with France, New Zealand and the United States.
Australia is listed as one of France’s four most important Indo-Pacific partners in materiel/defence industry cooperation, along with India, Malaysia and Singapore. The Future Submarine Program is used as an example of the importance of the relationship with Australia.
The France and Security in the Indo-Pacific strategy also notes France's comprehensive military resources and defence industrial base as an important element in developing strategic partnerships through armament cooperation:
The armament cooperation policy of France is characterised by its experience, its openness to industrial cooperation, transfer of technology and expertise, as well as the provision of long-term training, logistics support and assistance.
France is the fourth-largest armament exporter and contributes to building and modernising its allies and partners' defense capabilities. In the Indo‑Pacific, Australia, India, Malaysia and Singapore are France's most important partners in the armament sphere.
The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) noted that Australia and France are both fishing nations and in the Pacific Ocean 'Australia cooperates closely with France in combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing'. Australia also 'works with France on fisheries matters within their competence, including fisheries surveillance and monitoring for certain external territories like Kerguelen Islands and New Caledonia'.
DAWE explained that as 'France’s EEZ [Exclusive Economic Zone] surrounding New Caledonia is adjacent to Australia’s … we have shared interests in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean'. It noted that both countries are members of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.
It was reported by DAWE that 'Australia and New Caledonia collaborate on approaches to managing IUU incursions and surveillance which has resulted in New Caledonia apprehending IUU vessels operating near our maritime jurisdiction that were challenging for Australia to reach'.
The Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement (SIOFA) was signed on 7 July 2006 and entered into force in June 2012. Australia is one of ten contracting parties, which also includes France on behalf of its Indian Ocean Territories. DAWE reported that Australia supported the establishment of the SIOFA Secretariat in La Reunion, France in 2015. DAWE advised the Committee of the valuable contribution of this agency:
SIOFA is an important regional fisheries management organisation to Australia, as it manages valuable shared resources including toothfish populations that straddle Australia’s exclusive economic zone surrounding Heard Island and McDonald Islands, and the adjacent high seas.
Australia continues to play an active role in ensuring the proper functioning of SIOFA, including by chairing its Scientific Committee from 2015-2020 and as interim co-chairperson in 2019 and 2020. Australia also contributed significantly to establishing SIOFA’s foundation texts in close cooperation with France in respect of its overseas territories and in its role as host State.
DAWE also noted a possible area of cooperation in relation to SIOFA:
… we could continue to strengthen the governance arrangements for SIOFA to ensure it becomes a fully functioning regional fisheries management organisation that delivers on the objectives of its constituent treaty.
The Quadrilateral Defence Coordination Group (QUAD) which participates in multi-national fisheries surveillance to combat IUU fishing is covered in Chapter 3.
DAWE advised that 'Australia could strengthen the relationship with France in further cooperation in the science and management of our toothfish fisheries and in combatting IUU fishing'.
To enhance cooperation in the Eastern Indian Ocean, the NSC suggested that Australia and France should:
… use their experience in bilateral cooperative fishing enforcement activities in the Southern Ocean to promote similar bilateral or regional cooperative arrangements elsewhere in the Indian Ocean, potentially including in the eastern Indian Ocean.
Enhanced maritime cooperation in Indo-Pacific
The Department of Home Affairs (Home Affairs) advised that, alongside DFAT, it is working closely with the French Government to enhance maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, including as part of the Pacific Step-Up:
This involves cooperating with the governments of New Caledonia and the French overseas territories of French Polynesia and the Territory of the Wallis and Futuna Islands to translate the evident goodwill between us into practical and valuable cooperative activity. For example, the Department of Home Affairs, in conjunction with the Australian Border Force and Maritime Border Command, is developing a maritime domain awareness arrangement that will better enable the efficient exchange of information between France and Australia as we conduct operations designed to counter transnational crime and enforce our respective fisheries management responsibilities in the Indo-Pacific.
Home Affairs reported on enhancing operational collaboration and information exchange with key French maritime and security agencies to 'combat transnational organised crime in the Indo-Pacific, including efforts to enhance engagement and cooperation in the Pacific and Indian Ocean French Territories'.
Under the auspices of AFiniti, Home Affairs established the Australia-France Strategic Dialogue on National Security (strategic dialogue) which held the inaugural meeting in Canberra in February 2019. Mr Chad Hodgens, Assistant Secretary, Americas, Europe, Middle East and Africa, International Policy Division, Homes Affairs, told the Committee that the strategic dialogue is focused on enhancing cooperation across four broad areas of effort, one of which is:
… enhancing operational collaboration and information exchange with key French maritime and law enforcement agencies to combat human trafficking and illegal foreign fishing in the Indo-Pacific region as well as the trafficking of illicit substances and narcotics …
In relation to enhancing operational collaboration with key French maritime and law enforcement agencies, see Chapter 3.
Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief
As one of the most vulnerable regions to natural disasters and extreme weather events, nations in the Indo-Pacific, including Australia and France participate in collaborative humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR).
In addressing the potential for enhanced cooperation between Australia and France, the NSC suggested the development of a framework for a disaster management arrangement among key Indian Ocean states, including Australia and France, similar to the framework established under the FRANZ arrangement for disaster response in the South Pacific.
More detail on HADR exercises is included in Chapter 3.
Trilateral, multilateral and minilateral cooperation
Witnesses highlighted the benefits of trilateral partnerships to support Australia and France's objectives in the region.
The Committee received evidence from Dr Brewster and Dr Grare suggesting Australia should 'promote trilateral cooperation with France and India in the Indian Ocean'. They were of the view that an Australia-France-India trilateral partnership in the Indian Ocean would be 'an important and valuable addition to the expanding web of relationships across the region'.
Dr Brewster and Dr Grare highlighted that His Excellency Mr Emmanuel Macron, President of the French Republic, has 'promoted the potential for a trilateral partnership between France, Australia and India'. Ambassador Penot also saw scope for deepening cooperation, particularly between our navies but also proposed that Australia and France can:
… develop joint actions, together with like-minded countries such as India and Japan, in order to promote stability and ensure that our vision of a responsible and efficient multilateral order will preside.
France and India have a growing strategic partnership in the Indian Ocean region. In March 2018, during President Macron's state visit to India, France and India signed a Joint Strategic Vision of India-France Cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region.
With respect to India's interest in developing a trilateral relationship, Dr Brewster stated that:
I think it is worthy to note that, really, the French, more than anyone, have been pushing hard with India on developing this trilateral security dialogue involving Australia, and the resistance has been more from Delhi than anywhere else. There was a bit of an unfortunate interlude because Jaishankar [Minister of External Affairs of India] resigned as foreign secretary, and the new foreign secretary was much less keen on these trilateral arrangements. Now Jaishankar is back, we are hoping there will be renewed interest in it. But certainly my friends in Paris will all say: 'It is a wonderful idea. Let's figure out how we can encourage the Indians to come along with it.
Dr Brewster and Dr Grare noted that India signed logistical support arrangements with France and now with Australia which suggests trilateral cooperation may be a real possibility.
The NSC advised the Committee that in January 2018, it organised the Australian delegation to an India-France-Australia trilateral dialogue in New Delhi which involved 'officials and experts from the three countries to discuss enhanced strategic cooperation between those countries'. It recommended that Australia and France:
… jointly promote future iterations of the 1.5 track India-France-Australia trilateral dialogue as an important step in promoting enhanced strategic cooperation between the three countries.
Dr Brewster and Dr Grare noted that for several years, 'Australia, India and Japan have participated in a regular trilateral dialogue at Foreign Secretary level' which has:
… been a very successful vehicle for exchanging views on issues of shared concern across the Indo-Pacific and could increasingly become a mechanism for the coordination of efforts by the three countries in the Indian Ocean, including in maritime security capacity-building among regional states.
DFAT advised that the Australia Government 'strongly supports advancing trilateral cooperation with India and France' and have been 'endeavouring to convene further trilateral meetings, subsequent to the inaugural 1.5 track meeting held in January 2018 in New Delhi'.
To complement trilateral cooperation, witnesses noted a range of regional cooperative mechanisms providing the opportunity for Australia and France to engage in multilateral cooperation as well as advance these 'regional institutions and … make them more effective in the future'.
According to Dr Brewster and Dr Grare, '[h]istorically, trans-regional cooperation in the Indian Ocean has been very weak. However, in recent years the Indian Ocean has been witnessing the emergence of a series of cooperation networks which are now helping to tighten control of the Indian Ocean'.
Ambassador Penot informed the Committee that one of France's key strategic priorities in the region is:
… multilateral action to foster strategic stability. Again, this is an area where we can work together with Australia, either in regional fora such as IORA [Indian Ocean Rim Association], the association of the states of the Indian Ocean, or within other international fora, to give the right priority to this part of the world.
DFAT advised that Australia is broadening its cooperation with France in the Indo-Pacific, 'with French presence, and French Territories in the region'. In addition, in the Pacific, through the Pacific Step-Up initiative, 'with the autonomous governments of New Caledonia and French Polynesia, we are engaging with the French, including through Pacific and Indian Ocean regional organisations'.
Current regional organisations include the Indian Ocean Navy Symposium (IONS), the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) and the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF).
Indian Ocean Navy Symposium
Both Australia and France (Réunion) are members of IONS which seeks to increase maritime cooperation among the regional states of the Indian Ocean through collaboration on maritime issues. As part of the Royal Australian Navy's (RAN) international engagement, it advised that:
The forum helps to preserve peaceful relations between nations, and thus is critical to building an effective maritime security architecture in the Indian Ocean Region and is also fundamental to our collective prosperity.
The inaugural seminar of IONS was held in 2008 and its rotating biennial chairmanship was held by Australia in 2014-2016 and moved to France in 2020. France was scheduled to host a meeting of naval chiefs in June 2020 but this has been postponed.
IONS was described by Dr Brewster and Dr Grare as 'probably the most effective trans-regional grouping which brings together the region's navies for relatively informal networking and collaboration'. As the chair of IONS during 2014-2016, the RAN made 'considerable efforts into further developing the grouping as a valuable tool for outreach across the region'.
In accordance with France's priority to strengthen the region's strategic architecture, it was submitted by Dr Brewster and Dr Grare that the overall objective of France as the current chair of IONS is to 'contribute to its greater operationalization, with a particular emphasis on HADR [Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response] … and the fight against illicit traffic'.
Indian Ocean Rim Association
Australia is a member state of IORA, the region's main political grouping formed to foster regional cooperation and sustainable development. IORA's strategic reach is important to Australia as it is 'the only ministerial-level forum concerned with the Indian Ocean and includes important dialogue partners'.
For historical reasons, despite its territorial presence in the Indian Ocean, France is not a member of IORA. Ambassador Penot informed the Committee that France has been actively seeking membership of the organisation for many years and is appreciative of Australia's support for France's application:
For the past two years we have pushed more strongly to become a member, because we want to play a role. We believe it would be a forum where Australia and France could work together and also with other partners, possibly India. But we have the full support of Australia on this. I'm very pleased to have it, and we are grateful.
DFAT confirmed that Australia 'has supported France’s application for membership of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) in IORA forums and in bilateral discussions with IORA Member States'.
Dr Brewster and Dr Grare submitted that Australia should 'continue to actively support France's application for membership of IORA as a like-minded partner with similar interests in making that grouping more effective'.
DFAT updated the Committee on France's application for membership, stating:
Senior officials from IORA Member States decided, at the Committee of Senior Officials meeting held 29 June – 1 July 2020, to recommend to the IORA Council of Ministers (COM) that France’s application for membership of IORA be approved. The COM will consider this recommendation at its next meeting at the end of 2020.
Indian Ocean Commission
The IOC is an intergovernmental organisation which represents a group of island states in the Western Indian Ocean, including the Union of the Comoros, France in respect of La Réunion, Madagascar, Mauritius and the Seychelles. Dr Brewster and Dr Grare noted that '[w]ith the assistance of France and funding from the European Union, the IOC has facilitated maritime security capacity building among its members'.
China joined the IOC as an observer in 2016 and in 2020 India and Japan received observer status. Russia has also indicated an interest to join as an observer.
Dr Brewster and Dr Grare suggested that 'Australia should consider joining the IOC as an observer'. Dr Brewster submitted that both France and the IOC would 'welcome Australia's presence in providing a political balance alongside India vis-à-vis China'. Noting that there are essentially no expectations of financial contributions, Dr Brewster and Dr Grare were of the view that:
… this could be achieved at minimal cost … It's really political support that the small and relatively vulnerable island states are looking to Australia for. They see Australia as an important and benign partner.
In response to the suggestion that Australia should seek observer status with the IOC, DFAT stated:
The Australian government has been keeping under review the issue of whether Australia should seek to join the Indian Ocean Commission as an observer. This includes monitoring broader strategic developments in the western Indian Ocean and the impact on Australian interests of transnational crimes (such as people and narcotics smuggling and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing) in that region.
Pacific Islands Forum
Founded in 1971, the PIF is an intergovernmental organisation that aims to enhance cooperation between countries and territories of the Pacific Ocean. The Forum's Pacific Vision is 'for a region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion and prosperity, so that all Pacific people can lead free, healthy, and productive lives'.
Australia is a member of the PIF and 'provides core and extra-budgetary funding to the Secretariat'. French territories, New Caledonia and French Polynesia, became full members of PIF in 2016.
In addition to trilateral and multilateral collaboration, witnesses also highlighted the importance of emerging minilateral cooperation. Dr Brewster and Dr Grare explained that minilateral arrangements 'involve small informal groupings of states that share common security interests on particular issues'. While:
… these networks are now only in a nascent state … they provide highly valuable forums for the discussion of Indian Ocean issues and could provide new structures for cooperation in the Indian Ocean—perhaps ultimately the ‘building blocks’ for a broader regional security architecture.
Ambassador Penot informed the Committee:
Beyond the submarine program there is the sense that Australia and France can contribute through their bilateral partnerships and through minilateralism, working with other like-minded countries in the region to tackle the challenge of the world of today.