During his visit to Sydney on Wednesday, Macron said that France, India and Australia shared a responsibility to protect the region from “hegemony” — in a remark widely interpreted as a stab at China.
“What's important is to preserve rules-based development in the region…and to preserve necessary balances in the region,” Macron said then.
“It's important with this new context not to have any hegemony,” Macron added through an interpreter.
But Beijing shot back on Friday, with foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying saying that while she had not seen Macron's comments, any fears about Chinese hegemony amounted to “groundless accusations”.
“In the eyes of the world, which country could be said actually to be exercising hegemony in the world nowadays? Who has also long exercised military or economic hegemony of every kind in the region?” Hua said to reporters during a regular press briefing, in a thinly veiled reference to the United States.
“Before making such comments or groundless accusations, you should clarify these facts,” Hua added.
China's nationalist tabloid Global Times also criticised the French leader, accusing him of staging an “opportunistic show in (the) Indo-Pacific”.
“As France is in decline, opportunism is rising within its diplomacy,” the newspaper said.
France has a number of island territories in the Pacific Ocean. Australia has become increasingly alarmed at China's push into the Pacific, while neighbouring New Zealand has also voiced concerns about “strategic
anxiety” — diplomatic code for Beijing's influence among the region's island nations.
Reports last month — which were denied — said Beijing wanted to establish a permanent military base in Vanuatu.
Macron signed several agreements while in Australia, including on defence and cybersecurity.
Australia's Lowy Institute estimates China provided US$1.78 billion in aid, including concessional loans, to Pacific nations between 2006-16.