Fresh from pulling a spectacular victory in the recent Presidential elections, Macron hosted his first foreign leader visit for the term, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Underscoring the “premier” Indo-French strategic partnership, Modi who cultivated an excellent personal chemistry with French President Emmanuel Macron arrived at Elysee Palace becoming the first world leader to personally congratulate him. Expectedly, a warm congratulatory symbolic Modi’s “personalised diplomacy” evinced a deep trust and an exceptional friendship.
On the final leg of his three-day Europe visit, Modi travelled to France for a brief working visit to review bilateral ties. India and France enjoy excellent bilateral relations and their strategic convergence is rooted to their fundamental conviction in a strategic autonomy and multipolar world. Being the leading power in Europe and rising power in Indo-Pacific, France and India are well placed to playing a major role in the ongoing geopolitical recalibration.
Despite different opinions on the Ukraine issue which is characteristically finds place in the Joint Statement, where France “reiterated strong condemnation of unlawful and unprovoked aggression against Ukraine by Russian forces”, the meeting was marked by clear and broader understanding on each other’s positions on Ukraine. Leaders unequivocally condemned the civilian deaths, called for cessation of hostilities and advocated dialogue and diplomacy. Both countries have committed to enabling coordinated and multilateral response to aggravated crisis due to the Ukraine conflict through initiatives like FARM (Food and Agriculture Resilience Mission)1.
The partnership bolstered by the Joint Strategic Vision for Cooperation in Indo-Pacific and Joint Strategic Vision in space signed in 2018, leaders have now added new vistas of cooperation. With Space becoming the new arena for contestation, India and France are launching strategic dialogue on space issues to bring together experts from military, research and administration to discuss economic and security challenges of outer space. The first dialogue will be held this year. This development comes close on heels after Russia and China vowed to deepen space cooperation.
To address the challenges of 21st century, countries stepped up cooperation in cyber security agencies for an open, free and secure cyberspace and agreed to upgrade bilateral cyber dialogue. Further, building on the Indo-French roadmap on cyber security and digital technology, coountries plan to deepen cooperation on exascale technology (capable of computing a billion billion calculations per second (1018)), making of supercomputers in India and working towards secure 5G/6G telecom systems.
India is making rapid strides in building open public digital infrastructure. In recognition of New Delhi’s digitalisation for global good, France invited India as the First Country of the Year at this year’s edition of Vivatech, Europe’s largest digital fair in Paris.
Construction of six submarines in line with “Make in India’, pertinent transfer of technology and timely delivery of Rafales are testimony of mutual trust between two countries. Taking the buyer-seller relationship to a next level, countries are intent on developing synergy in defence and long-standing armament cooperation to the next level. To make India self-reliant in defence, France is exploring ways for deeper involvement in “Atmanirbhar Bharat” efforts in defence sector. This includes joint collaboration in advance defence technology, manufacturing and exports. France can be an effective ideal defence partner, since it doesn’t supply weapons to Indian adversaries like China and Pakistan.
Besides the existing joint exercises Shakti, Varuna, Pegase, Desert Knight, Garuda which illustrate efforts towards better integration and interoperability, countries are now seeking to ramp up maritime cooperation through joint endeavours in the Indian Ocean Region. 93% of France’s Exclusive Economic Zone through its overseas territories- Reunion, Mayotte, Scattered Islands, French Southern and Antarctica territories, New Caledonia, Wallis and Fatuna, French Polynesia, Clipperton, Tromelin and Iles Eparses are in Indian and Pacific Oceans. This region is home to 1.5 million French people and 8000 soldiers2. Thus, France is a very important stakeholder in the Indo-Pacific region. Given the burgeoning geopolitical and geoeconomics importance of the region, France is building robust with India, central to this region.
Despite the Ukraine crisis, to insulate the Indo-Pacific from the consequences of these conflicts, France hosted first Indo-Pacific Ministerial Forum meeting at Paris during its presidency of Council of EU and launched EU strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. To promote stable, open, rules-based international order, France has invited India onboard for the Indo-Pacific Ministerial forum held in February.
At the forum, India and France jointly launched “Indo-Pacific Parks Partnership” which aims to build expertise from the partners in the region in terms of sustainable management of protected areas and natural parks. During the current meeting, countries expressed interest to support the Intergovernmental Conference on an international legally binding instrument under UNCLOS for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) to ensure protection of high seas.
After the AUKUS agreement, France’s ties with Australia suffered with Canberra pulling plug on the submarine deal. Since then, India became a key partner for France in the Indo-Pacific region. Indian standoff at the Himalayan border and Beijing’s growing footprint in the Indian Ocean are serious security threats. France too shares similar concerns due to China’s muscular expansionism in the Indo-Pacific. To counter Chinese aggressiveness and its formidable claim to the superpower status and bipolar World, France is forging maritime partnerships with major actors in the Indo-Pacific. To maintain a semblance of stability in the region, India and France are deepening their collaboration on several fronts.
Indo-French bilateral ties spanning decades are a testimony to enduring faith. France, a permanent member of UNSC with the power Veto like Russia, blocked unfriendly moves by other unfriendly powers and supported India post-abrogation of article 370 and backed UNSC resolutions against Masood Azhar. Other than Russia, France is only country which has agreed to sell nuclear reactors to India. World’s largest nuclear plant at Jaitapur is now getting ready with French collaboration in Maharashtra.
Like India, France faces the onslaught of terrorism. Stating that counterterrorism is cornerstone of Indo-French strategic cooperation, countries expressed willingness to cooperate in the run up to the third edition of “No Money for Terror” international conference to be held in India this year. No Money for Terror is organised by Finance Intelligence Units of over 100 countries jointly called the Egmont Group. India and France are part of this global effort that fights terror financing.
Seven years since the launch of International Solar Alliance (ISA) by India and France at the Paris Climate Summit, India has invited France to join the Green Hydrogen Hub under its National Hydrogen Mission.
Modi-Macron meeting which comes at a crucial juncture in geopolitical realm discussed issues of cardinal interest as well. With France holding the rotating presidency of EU, Modi apprised Macron for the launch of the India-EU Trade and Technology Council and the restart of the India-EU agreements on Trade, Investment and Geographical Indicators. India also sought cooperation in deepening India-EU strategic partnership and implementation of India-EU connectivity partnership. While there isn’t any reference to this in the Joint Statement, leaders might have also shared their assessments of the Sino-Russian axis and EU’s turbulent ties with China.
Modi’s visit on May 5th has been his 10th bilateral visit to France and comes two days ahead of Macron’s official swearing in ceremony as President for his second term. Gearing for a new term, as Macron pledges to unveil new reforms to handle unprecedented challenges in the World, Modi has rightly renewed the strength and trust in the bilateral.
Image source: News18
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