Macron wants strategic Paris-Delhi-Canberra axis amid Pacific tension

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, President of France Emmanuel Macron, Australian Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne, Australian Minister for Defence Marise Payne and Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop are seen on the submarine HMAS Waller at Garden Island, in Sydney May 2, 2018. AAP/Brendan Esposito/via REUTERS

SYDNEY/PARIS (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday called for the creation of a new strategic alliance among France, India and Australia to respond to challenges in the Asia-Pacific region and the growing assertiveness of China.

On the second day of a visit to Australia, where he hopes to cement defense ties following the 2016 signing of a $38 billion megadeal to supply submarines to the Australian navy, Macron said the like-minded democracies should forge closer ties.

“We’re not naive: if we want to be seen and respected by China as an equal partner, we must organize ourselves,” Macron said in a speech at an Australian naval base.

Macron visited China in January, where he warned Beijing that its new “Silk Road” initiative should not be “one-way”.

He then flew to India in March, where he committed to strengthen a defense partnership that has already seen New Delhi buy French warplanes in 2016.

“This new Paris-Delhi-Canberra axis is absolutely key for the region and our joint objectives in the Indian-Pacific region,” Macron said.

His visit to Australia, only the second by a French president, comes amid heightened tensions in the Pacific, where France has numerous interests.

France has island territories spanning the Indo-Pacific: Reunion and Mayotte in the Indian Ocean, and Noumea, Wallis and Futuna and French Polynesia in the Pacific.

Australia and New Zealand have each separately warned that China is seeking to exert influence in the Pacific through its international aid program, an allegation Beijing denies.

Reporting by Sydney bureau, Jean-Baptiste Vey and Michel Rose in Paris; Editing by Dan Grebler