India-France strengthen 20-year-old partnership, sign key security deal with China in mind

Updated on Mar 11, 2018 07:24 AM IST

China’s territorial ambitions in the South China Sea already worry world powers, and its move into the vast Indian Ocean — stretching from the Suez Canal to the Malacca Strait — has heightened that concern.

French president Emmanuel Macron shakes hands with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a photo opportunity ahead of their meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, on March 10, 2018.(Reuters)
French president Emmanuel Macron shakes hands with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a photo opportunity ahead of their meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, on March 10, 2018.(Reuters)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By

India and France strengthened their 20-year-old strategic partnership on Saturday, signing an agreement for reciprocal logistics support between their armed forces and unveiling a blueprint to step up cooperation in the Indian Ocean to counter China’s growing influence in the region.

The two countries signed 14 agreements, ranging from cooperation in security and space to clean energy, after a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron on the second day of the latter’s four-day visit to India.

The focus of the visit is as much on building a personal rapport between the two leaders as it is on stepping up the Indo-French defence and security partnership. Modi spoke about the warm reception Macron gave him when he travelled to Paris last year.

“You welcomed me in Paris last year with an open heart and a lot of warmth. I am happy that I have got an opportunity to welcome you in India,” Modi said.

Macron, who was 39 when he became president in 2017, making him the youngest French leader since Napoleon Bonaparte, spoke about his “very good chemistry” with Modi.

“I consider today’s agreement of the reciprocal logistics support between our armies as a golden step in the history of our close defence cooperation,” Modi said in a statement to the media after his meeting with Macron. “Second, both of us believe that in future the Indian Ocean region will play a very important role in the happiness, progress and prosperity of the world.”

Major pacts

1. A pact to facilitate the two countries in combating illicit traffic and consumption of drugs as well as terror financing.

2. A pact on reciprocal logistical support. Will pave the way for provision of logistic support, supplies and services between the armed forces of the two countries.

3. Agreement to facilitate the mutual recognition of educational qualifications.

4. A letter of intent to enhance existing cooperation by creating an Indo-French Permanent Railway Forum.

5. Agreement on sustainable urban development for exchange of information on smart city development, urban mass transportation systems, urban settlements and utilities

6. An agreement on the way forward for the implementation of the Jaitapur nuclear power project

7. A credit facility agreement between India and France of Euros 100 million for funding of the smart city projects.

The agreement provides for the reciprocal provision of logistics support, supplies and services between the armed forces of the two countries during authorised port visits, joint exercises, joint training, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts.

Under the terms of the agreement, Indian warships will have access to French naval bases in the Indian Ocean.

The agreement will help India expand its footprint in the region. From Reunion Island to the naval base Héron in Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa, to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, France has key naval bases.

Modi described France as one of India’s “most trusted defence partners.”

Macron said defence cooperation between the two countries “now has a new significance,” stressing that a “a strong part of our security and the world’s stability is at stake in the Indian Ocean.”

In an apparent reference to China, Macron said, “the Indian Ocean, like the Pacific Ocean, cannot become a place of hegemony.”

Over 90% of India’s trade by volume and 68% of trade by value is via the Indian Ocean, where China has been wooing littoral states in an attempt to increase its strategic footprint.

The joint strategic vision for Indian Ocean calls for France and India committing “to utilizing every opportunity of their naval ships calling at each other’s ports for holding passage exercises”.

“In order to widen and deepen strategic naval cooperation, India and France will be open to inviting strategic partner countries in the region to participate in Indo-French exercises”, the vision document said.

“India occupies a central position in the Indo-Pacific, given its coastline of 7,500 kms, more than 1,380 islands and two million sq. km of Exclusive Economic Zone. It plays a pivotal role for the peace, security and prosperity of the region. France, a State of the Indian Ocean rim, is an important player in this region”, the document said, explaining the two countries’ mutual interest in the region.

The raft of agreements signed on Saturday covers defence, space, education, security and clean energy.

“From the ground to the sky, there is no subject on which India and France are not working together,” said Modi.

Although they couldn’t reach a commercial agreement for a French-assisted nuclear power plant in Jaitapur, Maharashtra, the two sides signed a pact that prescribes “a way forward for the implementation” of the project.

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