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India-France: Strategic Partners, Strong Convergences In Indo-Pacific

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron

In 2015, then French President Francois Hollande accompanied visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a cruise down the Seine river. More recently, in July last year, Modi was the guest of President Macron at the Bastille Day Parade, only the second leader to be given this honour. And even more recently, Macron was guest of honour at India’s Republic Day Parade, the 6th French leader to be so feted.

All this makes for great optics, says Arun Kumar Singh, former ambassador to France, but look deeper and the bilateral partnership unfolds across a range of areas, from defence and aerospace to education and high tech.

Ambassador Singh was on The Gist show, analysing India-France relations in the context of Macron’s presence at the Republic Day Parade.

“Both countries attach value to the relationship, they see strategic value in the relationship and they are constantly tending to it,” he underscored.

While India sees France as a steadfast partner in diplomatic and military terms, which did not bend to the US wind when Delhi went nuclear in May 1998, the reverse is no less true.

“The French elite see value in the relationship … look at France, it’s not a top level power like the US, it’s the next level … and if it wants to see a global role for itself especially because its role in Africa is declining, India is a very valued partner,” Singh said.

India is the resident power in a region where the French have hard interests. They have 1.6 million citizens in the Indo-Pacific, citizens in the islands of Mayotte, Reunion, Polynesia, French Tahiti and New Caledonia. They have a base in the UAE, a base in Djibouti and French naval vessels have a presence in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.

“We have two million square kilometres of Exclusive Economic Zone while the French have 9 million sq. km. So, given that kind of convergence of interests, the two countries have done a lot of things together,” Ambassador Singh noted, pointing to a logistics support agreement, regular air exercises, naval exercises that have increased in complexity building towards interoperability. They are also doing trilateral partnerships.

Singh says “We should also recognise their limits … France is not Russia, France is also not the US. France cannot influence global norms, France is not the top level leading global power.”

In his view, India should closely watch how the Paris-Beijing relationship evolves keeping in in mind India’s own problems with China. It’s also good for India to encourage some competition between France and the US, so this country can get more tech cooperation and lower the cost.

(The story is being republished courtesy StratNews Global)