France has recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia for consultations in a ferocious row over the scrapping of a submarine contract, an unprecedented step that revealed the extent of French anger against its allies.

President Emmanuel Macron ordered the recalling of the envoys after Canberra ditched a deal to buy French submarines in favour of US vessels, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.

Mr Le Drian said in a statement that the decision was made to "immediately" recall the two French ambassadors due to "the exceptional seriousness of the announcements made on 15 September by Australia and the United States."

The abandonment of the ocean-class submarine project that Australia and France had been working on since 2016 constituted "unacceptable behaviour among allies and partners," the minister said.

"Their consequences affect the very concept we have of our alliances, our partnerships, and the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe," he added.

US President Joe Biden announced the new Australia-US-Britain defence alliance on Wednesday, extending US nuclear submarine technology to Australia as well as cyber defence, applied artificial intelligence and undersea capabilities.

The pact is widely seen as aimed at countering the rise of China.

The move infuriated France, which lost a contract to supply conventional submarines to Australia that was worth Aus$50 billion (€31 billion) when signed in 2016.

A White House official expressed "regret" over the French envoy's recall but added "we will continue to be engaged in the coming days to resolve our differences, as we have done at other points over the course of our long alliance."

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby meanwhile acknowledged that telephone talks earlier between US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and French counterpart Florence Parly showed "that there is still much work to do in terms of our defence relationship with France."

France yesterday accused Australia of back-stabbing and Washington of Donald Trump-era behaviour over the submarines deal.

"It's really a stab in the back," Mr Le Drian said. "We had established a relationship of trust with Australia, this trust has been betrayed".

France has also called off a gala at its ambassador's house in Washington scheduled for today.

The event was supposed to celebrate the anniversary of a decisive naval battle in the American Revolution, in which France played a key role.

Paris sees itself as a major power in the Indo-Pacific due to overseas territories such as New Caledonia and French Polynesia which give it a strategic and military foothold unmatched by any other European country.

Australia earlier shrugged off Chinese anger over its decision to acquire the US nuclear-powered submarines, while vowing to defend the rule of law in airspace and waters where Beijing has staked hotly contested claims.

Beijing described the new alliance as an "extremely irresponsible" threat to regional stability, questioning Australia's commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and warning the Western allies that they risked "shooting themselves in the foot".

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, in Washington, said she understood the "disappointment" in Paris and hoped to work with France to ensure it understands "the value we place on the bilateral relationship and the work that we want to continue to do together".