India - France Relations
France is an important player in the Indian Ocean region, where India is facing a heightened Chinese presence. Beijing has indicated a strategic shift to curb its troops on land and reallocate resources to its navy and air force.
France has specific interests in the Indian Ocean due to its overseas territories (Reunion Island and Mayotte) which are home to over a million French citizens, and its 2.8 million square kilometres of exclusive economic zone, i.e. more than 10% of the Indian Ocean’s surface. It thus deploys significant assets in the Indian Ocean, permanent ones at its Djibouti, Abu Dhabi, Reunion Island and Mayotte military bases, or depending on requirement, as with its carrier strike group.
France and India share a commonality of interests. Both countries face the same challenges with the same values: freedom of navigation, fight against maritime piracy, and are determined to foster economic cooperation as well as promote the fight against climate change.
India and France have traditionally close and friendly relations. In 1998, the two countries entered into Strategic Partnership which is emblematic of their convergence of views on a range of international issues apart from a close and growing bilateral relationship. The areas of defence cooperation, space cooperation and civil nuclear cooperation constitute the three principal pillars of our Strategic Partnership. Apart from these traditional fields of cooperation, India and France are increasingly engaged in new areas of cooperation like climate change, sustainable growth and development, the International Solar Alliance etc.
Although India and France have joined forces on a number of issues since 1998, regional cooperation in the Indo-Pacific has never risen to the top of the agenda. However, this may be about to change. In response to growing geopolitical turbulence and more aggressive maritime maneuvering, both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Emmanuel Macron appear eager to expand their strategic engagement. Since Macron’s election in 2017, a series of high-level discussions between New Delhi and Paris have focused on the prospects of a stronger maritime security partnership.
In October 2018, France openly challenged what it described as China's attempt to infringe upon the freedom of navigation and committed that it would send its aircraft carrier to the Indian Ocean in 2019. "Whenever there are infringements of this fundamental principal of international law, as is currently the case in southern China, we shall make a show of our freedom to act and sail in such waters," French Defence Minister Florence Parly said.
France, which administers territories in the Indian Ocean, is considered an important player in the region, where India is reportedly facing an increasingly assertive China, which recently indicated a strategic shift in its policy to curb it land forces and move resources to strengthen its navy and air force.
"This shift foreshadows a more aggressive military approach of the kind already seen in the South China Sea. It could also force India to give up its fixation on land-based threats and invest greater resources in naval, air, missile and asymmetric-warfare capabilities," Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research said. India sees France as a nation which has a large stake in the Indo-Pacific region; its island territories there are home to over 1.6 million of its citizens and its exclusive economic zone spanning 9.1 million sq. km. These can play a crucial role "in ensuring peace, security and stability, and in bringing robust economic growth and prosperity to the region."
The Indian military establishment thinks that French territories in southern Indian Ocean — the islands of La Réunion, Mayotte, and the French Southern and Atlantic Lands — along with a permanent military presence in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa and in the United Arab Emirates, will support its mission-based deployment at important ‘choke points' on international shipping lines that traverse the Indian ocean.
The Inter-governmental agreement for purchase of 36 Rafale jets by India in flyaway condition was signed in New Delhi on 23 September 2016 by RakshaMantri Manohar Parrikar and French Defence Minister Le Drian. Project implementation is underway. The contract for six Scorpene submarines from M/s DCNS was signed in October 2006. All six vessels are to be built under technology transfer at the Mazagaon Docks Ltd. Project implementation is underway. The first submarine INS Kalvari was commissioned in October 2017.
India and France have a rich history of cooperation in the field of space going back to fifty years with ISRO and the French Space Agency, CNES carrying on various joint research programmes and launch of satellites. The space agencies of the two countries, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Centre National D'etudes Spatiales (CNES — National Centre for Space Studies) of France, have also agreed to co-develop a maritime surveillance satellite system focused on the Indian Ocean and related data collation mechanisms.
A landmark agreement on civil nuclear cooperation was signed between India and France on 30 September 2008 during the visit of Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to France. Subsequently, during the visit of President Nicolas Sarkozy to India in December 2010, the General Framework Agreement and the Early Works Agreement between NPCIL and M/s AREVA for the implementation of EPR for the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project (JNPP) were signed.
In January 2008 President Sarkozy made a two-day stop in India amid a whirlwind of media speculation regarding whether his famous girlfriend, supermodel Carla Bruni, would accompany him. Sarkozy's visit stimulated both governments to officially confirm that they have finalized their civil nuclear agreement, and generated the signing of significant corollary agreements for joint Indo-French civilian nuclear research. Paris and New Delhi pledged to triple bilateral trade to USD 18 billion within five years, and with the GOI's blessing, France announced the opening in 2008 of new consulates in Kolkata and Bangalore and the formal establishment of the Agence Francaise de Developpement (AFD) in India. The French left without inking any of the large defense deals which had been rumored, but the CEO of Dassault (manufacturer of the French Rafael, a competitor of Boeing and Lockheed Martin for the MRCA) made a tantalizing offer of full transfer of sensitive technology that if put into effect could prove too tempting for the GOI to refuse.
President François Hollande visited India on 24-26 January 2016 as the chief guest of the Republic Day celebration. In a historic first, a French military contingent also marched on Rajpath on the Republic Day and thus France became the first ever foreign country to have been invited to participate in the march. President Hollande also visited Chandigarh where the two Leaders addressed the India-France CEOs’ Forum.
Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi visited France on 2-3 June 2017 and met President Emmanuel Macron. This was the first ever meeting between the two leaders which happened soon after President Macron taking over the highest office of the French Republic following his victory in the presidential election on 7 May.
The President of the French Republic was on a State visit to India from 9th to 12th March 2018, suring which dozens of agareements were signed. They signed an Agreement between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the Republic of France on the exchange and reciprocal protection of classified or protected information. They also signed an Agreement between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the Republic of France for the provision of reciprocal logistics support between their Armed Forces
During the visit of President Macron to India, the two countries decided to create an annual defence dialogue at the Ministerial level. Regular exchange of visits at the level of Services Chiefs already takes place. The three services also have regular defence exercises; viz. Exercise Shakti (Army; the last one took place in January-February 2018 in France), Exercise Varuna (Navy; March-May 2018 in Goa, Mumbai and Reunion Island), Exercise Garuda (Air Force; June 2014 at Jodhpur). Apart from service-level staff talks, the two sides have a High Committee on Defence Cooperation (HCDC) which meets annually at the level of Defence Secretary and the French DG of the Directorate of International Relations and Strategy (DGRIS).
India and France signed a logistic sharing agreement on 10 March 2018 that aimed at facilitating the reciprocal provision of logistic 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, etc.
At the signing of the logistic sharing agreement, the two countries clearly specified the reason for the collaboration that included China's role in the region. "France and India have shared concerns with regards to the emerging challenges in the Indian Ocean Region that include: maritime traffic security in the face of the threats of terrorism and piracy, especially in the Horn of Africa; respect of international law by all States, in particular freedom of navigation and overflight," a bilateral document issued after the signing of the agreement reads.
Within a year of signing a logistic sharing agreement, a French destroyer docked at the Indian Navy's Mumbai base in January 2019, putting into operation the implementation of the agreement signed during French President Emmanuel Macron's visit to India in March 2018. This contrasted with a similar agreement signed with the US in 2016 after a decade of negotiations, which New Delhi took more than two years to implement.
France's Ambassador to India, Alexandre Ziegler, announced the docking of the French Navy's anti-aircraft destroyer, the FNS Cassard, at Mumbai's naval port on 25 January 2019. The French destroyer Cassard's visit to Mumbai was a mid-way port call; it's scheduled to join the anti-piracy operation Atalanta, which was being conducted by the European Union for maritime security and to fight piracy in the Indian Ocean. "The French military forces have been supporting the anti-piracy operation Atalanta for a long time," the French ambassador added.
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