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China’s muscle flexing brings France and India together

China's muscle flexing brings France and India together

Amid simmering military tensions between India and China over Ladakh, France has slammed Beijing, pointing out that Paris supports New Delhi’s security concerns including Kashmir.

"Whether it be on Kashmir, we've been supportive of India in the security concern. We haven't let the Chinese play any kind of procedural games. When it comes to the Himalayas, check our statements, they are perfectly clear. What we say publicly, we say it to the Chinese privately. There is no ambiguity," he said while speaking at a New Delhi event on Thursday. Bonne, who is a diplomatic adviser to French President Emmanuel Macron, also stressed that Paris and New Delhi needed to work together in the Indo-Pacific—an area where China has been making steady inroads.

The French official who was in India to lead a delegation for a strategic dialogue with the National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval, tick marked several topics of common strategic concern between India and France in the region, following China’s muscle flexing. The Hindustan Times had earlier reported that the laundry list of topics included the setting up of a 10,000-megawatt nuclear power plant in Maharashtra, and construction of the six diesel-electric submarines under project P-75I for the Indian Navy.

The daily pointed out that France has been one of India’s most reliable partners in Europe for years but the two countries had inched closer over the last few years that led to a deal to buy 36 Rafale aircraft. Paris has now offered to shift 100 per cent assembly line for Panther medium utility helicopters as well as 70 per cent of the assembly line for Rafale fighters under “Make in India” rubric with full transfer of technology.

When French defence minister Florence Parly was in India last year in context of the induction of the omni-role fighter jets in the Indian Air Force, she and defence minister Rajnath Singh had agreed to stick to the Rafale template of government-to-government deals for future defence purchases. Regarding China, while India has its security concerns along the border, the French are also wary of China’s moves in New Caledonia — a French island territory in the Pacific Ocean.

The former penal colony, which is reliant on Paris for about US$1.5 billion in funding annually, has an agreement with France for up to three referendums – each held two years apart – on the question of independence. In the first poll in 2018, close to 57 per cent of voters chose to stay with France. In the second referendum held last year, more than 53 per cent chose to stay with France.

Analysts say that China is eyeing the territory, which has large reserves of nickel. Consequently, Macron is keen that in order to safeguard the territory, France partners with the Indo-Pacific Quad, comprising India, Japan, Australia and the United States.

During the 2018  independence referendum, Macron had warned that China was “building its hegemony step by step a hegemony which will reduce our freedom, our opportunities” in the Pacific. During a visit to New Caledonia in that year, Macron stopped in Australia where he proposed the “Paris-Delhi-Canberra axis,” which, he said was “absolutely key for the region and our joint objectives in the Indo-Pacific”.

Paris is also keen that New Caledonia becomes part of new supply chains that exclude China. The visiting French official is reported to have assured Doval of all material and moral support to help India counter the Chinese military advances along the Line of Actual Control, on the icy heights of Ladakh.

India and France, operating from Reunion Island, also have shared strategic interests in the Indian Ocean. During the New Delhi-Paris strategic dialogue, the two sides decided to work together on a shared agenda at the UN Security Council, where India has been elected as a non-permanent member for two years. India's tenure at the Security Council formally began on Monday with a flag installation ceremony.

(Ranjit Kumar is the former diplomatic editor of Navbharat Times. He can be reached at ranjitkumar101@gmail.com).