A British frigate on Monday completed a visit to Vietnam and left some turbulence in its wake – an unlikely spat on social media between Britain and France.
Acrimony between Britain and France has been stoked by Brexit and the newly announced AUKUS (Australia-U.K.-U.S) security pact that led to Australia cancelling a big submarine contract with France in favor of the U.S. and the U.K. technologies.
Those tensions bubbled to the surface when HMS Richmond, part of the HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier strike group, arrived in central Vietnam last Friday on a four-day visit.
The British Embassy in Vietnam posted a picture of the frigate docked at Cam Ranh Bay in its Twitter page saying the visit “demonstrates the U.K.’s commitment to a persistent & reliable presence in the Indo-Pacific.”
Several hours later, the official account of the French Embassy in Vietnam (@FranceauVietnam) replied in the same post: “Nice ship @UKinVietnam (British Embassy’s account)! Ours seems a little bit larger though. It was in Cam Ranh as well last spring.”
It also retweeted some photos from April when the French Navy’s helicopter carrier Tonnerre and frigate Surcouf visited Cam Ranh. The two ships were taking part in the navy’s Jeanne D’arc 2021 mission aimed at reaffirming France’s commitment and interest in the Indo-Pacific.
The Tonnerre (Thunder) is a Mistral-class amphibious assault ship with a displacement of 21,500 tons and can carry 16 heavy helicopters. The HMS Richmond carries one helicopter, a Wildcat HMA.2 and has a displacement if 4,900 tons.
The French Embassy’s post caused quite a bit of a stir on social media with hundreds of Twitter users chiming in, some calling it “silly” and “infantile.”
One comment reads in French: “Nous, on en a une plus grosse! Et nananère…” (“We have a bigger one! Nah nah nah…”)
Another comment, presumably by a British user: “How sweet, someone who still thinks that size matters.”
Another commenter, who calls himself Danny Smith: “Our aircraft carriers are a little larger than yours. Sorry no; they are a lot larger and we have 2!”
But the bonhomie exchange seemed getting more intense with remarks such as: “I expect better from the embassy of a country that gave us Descartes, Voltaire and Sartre, besides many other great thinkers.”
Hannah Neumann, a German member of European Parliament, or MEP, was obviously disapproving: “Were it about plastic boats in the swimming pool, it would be funny.”
And an American reader summed it up: “As an American I have to say it’s entertaining to watch you guys go at it.”
Last month, Canberra cancelled a $27.5 billion submarine contract with France and announced that Australia would build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with technologies provided by the U.S. and U.K.
Paris called this decision a “stab in the back” and recalled its ambassadors from the U.S. and Australia but resent the French envoy to Washington two weeks later. France’s defense minister Florence Parly also cancelled talks with her British counterpart.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson stepped in by telling France to “get a grip” and give Britain’s allies a break. His schoolboy ‘Frenglish’ was reportedly not received very well in French media. Johnson is also the leader who navigated the U.K.’s acrimonious exit from the European Union in 2020.
A round of trade talks between Australia and the European Union, scheduled to start on 12 October, have been postponed until next month.
The HMS Richmond was completing its visit to Vietnam on Monday with a PASSEX (passing exercise) drill with Vietnamese partners on the way out.
The visit occurred amid the largest-ever reshuffling of Vietnam’s coastguard leadership, with the force’s commander, Lt General Nguyen Van Song, getting sacked for mismanagement and corruption. Eight other high-ranking officials also got dismissed from the Communist Party and were disciplined.
Before HMS Richmond had arrived in Vietnam, the frigate angered China when it passed through the Taiwan Strait, prompting Beijing to condemn what it called the U.K.’s “insidious intention.”