Visit of Macron to India Underlines a Growing Strategic Convergence

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Both India and France have made their intentions clear – to cooperate to address the consequences of America’s protectionist policies, its willingness to reject international accords and weaken international institutions which itself had been created by the country. India simultaneously faces Chinese self-aggrandisement in the Indo-Pacific region as it threatens to generate a power imbalance which may even have consequences for Europe, states Navodita, our Associate Editor, in the weekly column. A Different Truths exclusive.

The recent visit to India by French President underlines a growing strategic convergence between the two countries. This includes the field of economics and most importantly the area of security. These have gained special prominence in the wake of Donald Trump’s erratic decision-making and a few faulty foreign policy pronouncements along with the unravelling of China’s hegemonic ambitions on land and sea.

Both India and France have made their intentions clear – to cooperate to address the consequences of America’s protectionist policies, its willingness to reject international accords and weaken international institutions which itself had been created by the country. India simultaneously faces Chinese self-aggrandisement in the Indo-Pacific region as it threatens to generate a power imbalance which may even have consequences for Europe.

India and France have agreed to sign a ‘Joint Strategic Vision of India-France Cooperation in the Indian Ocean region’, flowing from which a Reciprocal Logistics Support Agreement has also been signed. The objective of these is to establish and promote trilateral dialogue for which the first candidate could well be Australia. Yet another document- the India-France Joint Vision for Space envisages the pursuit of the study of a constellation of satellites for maritime surveillance. The third document signed on this visit is on ‘exchange and reciprocal protection of classified or protected information’, which reflects the growing strategic trust between the two countries. Hence we see that there is a spate of agreements designed to promote mutual trust and understanding between the two nations.  

France has also reaffirmed its strong and active support for India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Also with the Belt and Road Initiative in mind, France has joined hands with Japan and EU and the US in stressing that connectivity initiatives must be based on key principles of good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency, social and environmental standards, accountable debt financing practices, etc. The reference to ‘sovereignty’ is important in the light of our opposition to the CPEC. Hence France support in this regard is of utmost significance and importance.

The joint statement strongly endorses the nuclear deal with Iran. In the context of the Trump’s trade-related broadsides and his decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium imports, India and France have reaffirmed the centrality of the rules-based multilateral trading system. The launching of the International Solar Alliance furthers the objectives of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and forges a stronger strategic bond between India and France. We thus see a number of steps taken to promote trade and economic cooperation which barely exist between the two countries.

Also, a significant link between the two countries was made in the field of education. Currently about 2, 500 Indians go to France annually to pursue higher education, compared to more than 250, 000 from China. A target has been set to raise it to 10, 000 Knowledge Summit, where 14 MoUs between educational and scientific institutions were signed, is a welcome move.

In tourism, a target of a million Indian tourists and 335, 000 French tourists have been set for 2020. Given that France receives over 80 million tourists a year and India around nine million, these targets may seem modest but reflect that while there are only about 20 flights a week between India and France, there are four times as many to Germany and 10 times as many to the U.K. Movement between India and France should thus show an increase from now on.

Looking back, although briefly, the Cold War imposed limitations on the partnership, after the Cold War, France decided that its preferred partner in the Indian Ocean region would be India. In January 1998, President Jacques Chirac declared that India’s exclusion from the global nuclear order was an aberration that needed to be rectified. After the nuclear tests in May 1998 when India declared itself a nuclear weapon state, France was the first major power to open dialogue and displayed a far greater understanding of India’s security compulsions compared to other countries. It was the first P-5 country to support India’s claim for a permanent seat in an expanded and reformed UN Security Council. Thus France has always been a huge support and it has acknowledged India’s growing strength in the global scenario in the past and in the present.

With the establishment of a Strategic Dialogue, cooperation in defence, civil nuclear, space, intelligence sharing and counter-terrorism has grown. Joint exercises between the air forces and the armies were instituted in 2003 and 2011, respectively. Terror strikes in France in recent years by home-grown terrorists have enlarged the scope of counter-terrorism cooperation to include cybersecurity and discussions on radicalization.

However such efforts were restricted to areas of engagement at a government-to-government level which is now being explored much beyond. In recent years, it was clear that for a wider partnership, strengthening business-to-business and people-to-people relationships were essential. Climate change and renewable energy resources soon emerged as a new plank, which includes even areas related to urban planning and management of services like housing, transport, water, sanitation, etc. using the public-private partnership model which the French have employed successfully. Thus efforts are being made to generate a sense of friendship between the citizens of the two countries.

The strengthening cooperation in the western Indian Ocean region makes eminent strategic sense even as India develops its presence in Oman (Duqm) and Seychelles (Assumption Island). The strategic partnership has thus created a good foundation; with new aspects receiving much-needed attention and with proper implementation, it can add to the growing strategic convergence that draws India and France together.

©Navodita Pande

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Navodita Pande has been practicing yoga since she was 9 years old in Iyengar Yoga. In April 1995, she performed at the International Yoga Seminar. In January 2003, Navodita taught at Hare Rama Hare Krishna Mandir in New York. Navodita had a Yoga show on NDTV 24×7 and was also the official yoga trainer for Miss Delhi contestants in 2007. She currently teaches Yoga and Reiki to
people in Kanpur.