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India France Strategic Dialogue to focus on China’s role in Indo-Pacific

India and France will hold the next round of their Strategic Dialogue on Thursday—an event that will cover China’s muscle flexing in the Indo-Pacific, and further substantiate the New Delhi-Paris military partnership.

National Security Adviser Ajit Doval will lead the Indian delegation, while the French team will be led by Mr. Emmanuel Bonne, Diplomatic Advisor to the French President, Emmanuel Macron.

The diaolige will take place at a time when India is facing off China in Ladakh. 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.

Apart from the broader Indo-Pacific strategy, India and France are major defence partners, with Paris providing India with cutting edge Rafale fighter jets. Besides, France has set up facilities in India to build Scorpene class submarines. Talks are also underway for Airbus of France to supply mid-air refuelling planes for the Indian Air Force.

So far India is relying on Russian IL-78 refuelers.

The two countries have an elaborate intelligence sharing arrangement, which includes French presence in the Fusion centre in Gurugram, that monitors shipping in the Indian Ocean. New Delhi and Paris are also exploring joint forays in African where both countries have their niche influence..