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Australia, France patch up defence ties

Australia and France are strengthening their defence co-operation and deepening their diplomatic ties, officials say, as the two countries seek to heal wounds from a controversy over a secret submarine contract that infuriated France a year ago.

During his last stop on a European tour, Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles assured France that his country is trying to “turn the page” and “move on” from the breakdown in relations.

The controversy erupted after Australia cancelled a military contract with France that was worth billions of dollars and took its business instead to the United States and the United Kingdom as part of the AUKUS pact.

“It’s critically important that our relationship moves forward with frankness, with respect and with honesty,” Marles said in a joint statement with his French counterpart, Sebastien Lecornu, in the western French port city of Brest.

The two ministers said they were committed to projects that will strengthen their joint defence capabilities and protect their “shared interests in a prosperous, resilient and secure” Pacific region.

They agreed to “enhance military cooperation” including more robust joint military exercises, joint regional deployments, training activities and improved sharing of intelligence.

“Like all friendships, it has experienced ups and downs,” Lecornu, the French defence minister, said of their bilateral relations.

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