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India- France Relationship (14 April 2021)

India- France Relationship (14 April 2021)

Context:

Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France is on an official visit to India from April 13-15, 2021. During bilateral talks with India's External Affairs Minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar, hosted the visiting Foreign Minister for bilateral talks both Ministers recognised the immense opportunities for greater collaboration in diverse sectors such as trade and investments, defence and security, health, education, research and innovation, energy and climate change.

Background:

  • Former French president Francois Hollande was the chief guest in republic day celebrations in 2016, making France the only country to be invited a record-setting 5 times to republic day celebrations.

Summary of the Debate

Journey of India-France bilateral relations so far:

Political:

  • France was one of the first countries with which India established a strategic partnership and that happened way back in January 1998 when President Jacques Chirac visited India.

  • He made a statement that ‘In the post-cold war period, it was very clear that France had decided that its preferred partner in the Indian Ocean region would be India’.

  • It was the first P5 country to openly support India's claim for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.

  • Both countries talked of Indo-Pacific, nuclear cooperation, defense cooperation, intelligence sharing, counter-terrorism, smart cities, climate change, Paris Accords, the International Solar Alliance.

Trade:

  • With France, the trade has been in excess of 12 billion euros. The balance of trade is in India’s favor.

  • India is in a position to export a large number of items to France and they are in a position to export a large number of items to India.

Defence:

  • It is interesting that even from the 1950s onwards we have had a fairly robust kind of a defense cooperation particularly with vis-a-vis the Air Force.

  • It was in the 1950s that we acquired the Ouragan Aircraft, then we acquired the Mystères Aircraft, the Jaguar which was an Anglo-French jet attack aircraft, we acquired the Mirage 2000s.

  • Both countries started joint naval exercises ‘Varuna’ in 1983 and is going to take place later this year and will involve the aircraft carrier groups, they date back to 1983.

  • The latest deal was concluded in 2015 for 36 Rafale in a fly away condition and all 36 Rafale jets will be handed over to India by 2022 as per contract.

  • Both countries signed more than a decade earlier, for the 6 Scorpene submarines under technology transfer out of which 3 have already been commissioned and are in service with the navy.

Nuclear:

  • France was the first country with which India entered into civil nuclear agreement following NSG waiver.

Space:

  • The other sector which has always been very strong in the Indo-French cooperation has been the space sector.

  • In the 1960s, it was the French who helped us set up the Sriharikota launch site and today with the Arianespace, we have a very robust and long-standing cooperation.See the source image

  • We cooperate on building satellites together on oceanographic satellites, meteorological satellites and undertake cartographic projects together.

Urbanisation:

  • For the last three or four years, we are seeing greater connect in for example, the smart cities projects because France has a very established system of local governance. It has some of the world's best companies working with things like urban transportation, urban sanitation, urban housing, urban planning and things like that.

Major challenges:

  • While France was the more established strategic partner for India but in terms of bilateral economic relationship, it was much smaller than that with Germany. With Germany, the trade is double of what it is with France.

  • There were many more Indian students who were going to study in Germany as compared to France.

  • The number of flights between India and France had roughly about 20 flights a week whereas, we had something like about 80 a week between India and Germany. There are about 200 flights a week between India and UK.

  • These were because the people to people connect somehow or the other did not have the same weight.

  • The strategic partnership in sectors like space, nuclear, defense, counter-terrorism is essentially a government-to-government-level partnership. The challenge for us is to develop the people-to-people connect in terms of getting more students there.

Indo-Pacific region Interests:

  • France has a presence in the Indian Ocean because of its overseas territories. Reunion Island belongs to France.

  • France also has overseas territories like the French Polynesian Islands and the New Caledonia in the Pacific. So, the French maritime presence in this region has been there for a long time because it has about 2 million French citizens that live in the Indian Ocean and in the Pacific Ocean. That is why France was the first European country to come out with an Indo-Pacific strategy.

  • Now, subsequently similar papers have been brought out by both Germany and Netherlands and now the EU itself is talking about coming out with an EU strategy paper on Indo-Pacific.

  • Last week, there were two French ships doctrine at Kochi which have been participating in a naval exercise with the four navies of the QUAD. So, there were five countries participating in this naval exercise.

  • Earlier, India and France as far as the navies are concerned have been cooperating to keep the area free of piracy and also to ensure free and open navigation as repeatedly mentioned by the Prime Minister.

  • Looking at the Indo-Pacific initiative, France is going to be a very important part and they have got very major stakes here so with the United Kingdom, but other European countries are also going to come in because the larger threat which is looming is the attitude of China with respect to not just its neighbors in the South China but all across the globe.

  • Quad is now a reality and it is it is going to cause concern to China but it is going to cause a great deal of comfort level to the countries in the Indian Ocean Rim and in the Indo-Pacific because the unilateral actions being taken by one country can no longer be accepted which is why the Prime Minister keeps repeating that one statement ‘Free and Open Navigation’.

  • So, France is going to cooperate with the QUAD countries of which India is a major player.

Way Forward:

  • There is much greater scope to further enhance the trade relationship especially with the COVID-19 scare coming up and the adverse reaction which is coming in with respect to China.

  • China has got major trade relations with most of the countries in the world and India is in a position now to occupy some of that space and it will take a few years from now, but if we work on it with France, with Britain and with certain other European countries, we can actually radically re-alter our trade balances with them.

  • The two main green energy sources that exist or that are the greenest which have the lowest carbon footprint are Nuclear and Hydel.

  • Hydel however involves displacement of people which creates difficulties for India. Therefore, while we can import Hydel power if generated in places like Bhutan or Nepal, but at the same time our domestic ability to generate Hydel gets restricted and Nuclear is the area where France is again a big partner for us.

  • Earlier, the one of the difficulties that we used to have was that when Indian students were studying in France, they had to renew their visas every year even if they were doing a four-year course. Now, many of these things have been facilitated with a view to increasing the people-to-people connect and adding that weight behind the strategic partnership.

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