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France fully supports India’s ‘strategic autonomy’ — French Foreign Minister tells NSA Doval

France's Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna with National Security Adviser Ajit Doval in New Delhi on Wednesday (Images courtesy: French Embassy in India)

India and France held detailed discussions on regional and global security issues, including their close cooperation in counter-terrorism, as French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna met National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval in New Delhi on Wednesday.

Colonna, who has chosen India as her first bilateral visit to Asia since assuming office in May, spotlighted France’s commitment to continuing as India’s foremost partner in its path towards strategic autonomy.

India, which has time and again reiterated that terrorism is one of the most serious challenges to global peace and security, will be holding a high-level United Nations counter-terrorism conference on terror funding in November.

Last year, while co-chairing the annual Indo-French strategic dialogue in Paris, NSA Doval discussed ways to expand bilateral and regional cooperation; deal with new threats; and support India’s defence industrialisation and self-reliance.

Earlier in the day, giving a fillip to the people-to-people ties and the Indo-French relationship, Colonna said that student mobility is among the top priorities set by the leaders of both countries to further strengthen the bilateral relationship.

Addressing the students of Lady Shri Ram College in New Delhi – her first stop during the maiden two-day visit to India – Colonna said that French President Emmanuel Macron has assigned a clear objective of having 20,000 Indian students in France by 2025.

Quite importantly, the minister said that both nations are also “working hard to enlarge” the scope of their cooperation to skill development and professional training in economic sectors where France is at the top – aeronautics, transports and automotives, energy, hospitality and food, fashion, graphic arts and design, among others.

She revealed that after the figures went down in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic, France will welcome in 2022 almost the same number of Indian students as in 2019, during which more than 5000 students had completed their procedure for long-stay studies in France.

Colonna accentuated that India and France – currently involved in strategic and economic cooperation – have always enjoyed a partnership “from the hearts and minds” as both countries share common values, such as democracy and rule of law.

“We have exchanged scientific and cultural ideas since the times when astronomical tables and calculations were brought up from India to Europe through the trade routes of Central Asia, and through the oceans, in the fourteenth and in the fifteenth centuries,” the French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs remarked during her address.

“It is no surprise to see how today our cooperation in Mathematics, in Space science, in Life Science or in Humanities, to name only those, are so tight, and ones of the most durable bonds that bridge our two people,” she added.

Asserting that the bond that exists between the two countries on education and training is solid, the minister said that to achieve the objective assigned by Macron, France must attract 7500 to 8000 students every year and therefore increase the actual numbers by 50%.

“It is very ambitious. But between India and France, the sky is the limit. To achieve it we are expanding the presence of France in India. We want France to be seen as a leading country in terms of education and research, which it is,” she said.

Lady Shri Ram College
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna at the Lady Shri Ram College in New Delhi on Wednesday

The French minister will call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi later in the day besides holding talks with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, signifying the depth and strength that the India-France Strategic Partnership has acquired in recent years.

As reported by IndiaNarrative.com, from the acquisition of 36 Rafale fighter jets to the partnership between Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Safran to develop helicopter engines, the two countries continue to work closely to expand the relationship to new areas of cooperation, as envisaged by PM Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Both leaders had recently reviewed the ongoing bilateral initiatives including defence cooperation projects under PM Modi’s vision of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ and cooperation in civil nuclear energy.

Ahead of her arrival, the French Foreign Ministry said that these exchanges will make it possible to address all aspects of the bilateral relationship, in particular the strategic partnership that has united the two countries for nearly 25 years and also their ongoing cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.

“The aim of Minister Colonna’s visit is to move forward with an ambitious agenda to deepen and expand the Indo-French strategic partnership ahead of its 25th anniversary next year. The visit also demonstrates France’s unwavering commitment to the Indo-Pacific and determination to work with India to find common solutions to global disorders,” said the ministry.

The bilateral strategic partnership, regional and global subjects of common interest between India and France, which is currently chairing the United Nations Security Council, will feature during the French Foreign Minister’s bilateral consultations with Jaishankar.

“India and France have a long-standing strategic partnership, strengthened by regular high-level consultations and growing convergences in various areas. Ms. Colonna’s visit will pave the way for further strengthening of the partnership across trade, defence, climate, migration and mobility, education and health sectors,” the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said before Colonna’s arrival in New Delhi.

During the last leg of her trip, the French Minister will tour Mazagon Dock shipyard, where she will visit ‘Vagsheer’, the most recent of the France-designed Kalvari-class submarines made in India for the Indian Navy under a successful transfer of technology programme.

“This visit will exemplify France’s commitment to Aatmanirbhar Bharat in the defence sector and to Indo-French naval cooperation as a net security provider in the Indo-Pacific,” said the French Foreign Ministry.

Also Read: French Foreign Minister to discuss new cycle of partnership during maiden visit to India