With China’s Rise, Strong Indo-French Relations More Than Welcome
Two years after the last visit to India by his predecessor, former French President Francois Hollande, who was chief guest at the Republic Day parade in 2016, French President Emmanuel Macron will reach India on Friday, 9 March, for a four-day visit.
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The two nations have managed to carve out a forward-looking partnership which is aimed at strengthening bilateral cooperation on issues such as terrorism, climate change, sustainable growth and development, infrastructure, urbanisation, science and technology.
A Long-Standing Partnership
This is a relationship which is truly strategic in its orientation. Macron will be co-chairing the International Solar Alliance (ISA) with Modi during his visit, and the two leaders will also inaugurate a solar power plant at Dadar Kala village in Uttar Pradesh.
The ISA is a major Indo-French initiative with around 56 countries having signed the ISA Framework Agreement and 26 nations having already ratified it.
It provides a common platform for cooperation among sun-rich nations with the aim of significantly ramping up solar energy, thereby helping to contain global greenhouse emissions as well as providing clean and cheap energy. It is also the first treaty-based international organisation to be based in India.
Guided by their desire for strategic autonomy, India and France have been traditional partners and have adapted well to the changing global context. Paris was at the forefront of the campaign to call for a complete integration of New Delhi in the global nuclear order. The US came much later. France’s help was crucial for India to enter the multilateral nuclear architecture.
During Macron’s visit, the two nations are likely to sign a pact between NPCIL (Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited) and EDF (of France) on six nuclear reactors.
Military and Maritime Agreements
At a time when India is redefining its strategic space in the Indo-Pacific region, there is great potential in Indo-French collaboration in the Indian Ocean. While India is engaging the US, Japan and Australia as part of the “Quad” initiative, close bilateral partnership with France is evolving in the region, especially in the Western Indian Ocean.
French military bases in Djibouti, Abu Dhabi and Reunion Islands can be a force multiplier for India, which itself is looking to build naval facilities in Seychelles, Mauritius and Oman.
During Macron’s visit, both countries will be signing agreements that will allow India logistical access to French military bases in the Indian Ocean. The two nations will be hoping that this sharing of military facilities will lead to greater interoperability between their navies and much closer maritime cooperation including maritime domain awareness.
As China undercuts India’s geographical advantages in the Indian Ocean, New Delhi needs partners like Paris to preserve its equities in the region and to continue to play its traditional role of regional security provider. In this context, working towards the eventual goal of inter-operable navies which can use each other’s naval facilities will certainly result in a more effective security architecture in the Indo-Pacific.
With China’s Rise, India-France Need to Up the Ante
Defence cooperation between France and India has been growing steadily. The Rs 59,000 crore deal for 36 Rafale fighters was signed in 2016 and despite generating some political controversy it remains India’s best bet to boost its diminishing air capability. France remains a major partner for India in developing various key military platforms including the Scorpène-class submarines.
It is a joint venture between French aerospace firm Dassault Aviation and India’s Reliance Group and is the first private facility for production of Rafale fighter jets and Falcon civilian aircraft.
The two navies regularly conduct joint exercises and their scope has been widening over the years. The “Varuna” series of joint maritime exercises began in 2000 and have become integral to institutionalised interactions between the two navies. It is India’s own vulnerabilities in the defence sector that have impeded even closer Indo-French defence cooperation.
The underpinnings of global geopolitics are being rapidly altered with China’s inexorable rise, the West being consumed by internal problems and Russia, ‘America First’ priorities of the Trump Administration and growing threats to globalisation.
This is a time for nations like India and France to take the lead and shape the narratives as well as the emerging institutional frameworks. Macron’s visit will once again alert New Delhi and Paris to the immense possibilities which exist in the Indo-French bilateral partnership, and there are growing signs that political leaderships in both countries are keen to exploit them.
(Harsh V Pant is a Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi and Professor of International Relations at King’s College, London.This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)