Shishir Gupta
Hindustan Times, New Delhi


French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Prime Minister Narendra Modi before a meeting at the Chateau of Chantilly, near Paris, France in August 2019(REUTERS)

 
 
 
 

 

French President Emmanuel Macron dialled Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday evening to discuss a wide range of issues including the digital and strategic autonomy, deepening defence cooperation, Indo-Pacific, and the security environment in Asia and the West Asia.

PM Modi conveyed to President Macron his condolences for the terror attacks in France, and reiterated India’s full support to France in the fight against terrorism, extremism and radicalism, the Prime Minister’s Office said. The leaders also discussed other bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest including improving affordability and accessibility of Covid-19 vaccines, post-Covid economic recovery and climate change.

People familiar with the matter said the two leaders are learnt to have decided to set up a hotline between the two leaders. The move comes against the backdrop of France’s greater focus on the Indian Ocean and China’s aggressive posture across the region that had prompted President Macron to appoint one of France’s most senior diplomats, Christophe Penot, as the country’s first special envoy for the Indo-Pacific in October this year.

 

Spoke with my friend @EmmanuelMacron on the challenges and opportunities presented by the post-COVID world. India stands by France in its fight against terrorism & extremism. The India-France partnership is a force for good in the world, including in the Indo-Pacific.

— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) December 7, 2020

But French President Macron has been vocal about countering China for much longer. Two years ago, he was among the first to call for building a strategic alliance between India, France and Australia that could respond to challenges in the Asia-Pacific region and the growing assertiveness of China. This initiative had taken baby steps in September when the top diplomats of the three countries had their first meeting over a video conference.

Like India, France believes in both strategic autonomy and plural democracy and is concerned about Chinese moves in the South China Sea and the French territory spread across dozens of islands in the South Pacific, New Caledonia, an official said.

India and France’s strategic partnership dates back to 1998; it was then New Delhi’s first. Over the next few decades, the two countries have established a strong institutional mechanism to deepen cooperation in space, counter-terrorism, maritime security, as well as dialogues among defence chiefs and National Security Advisers.

National Security Adviser Ajit Doval had spoken to his French counterpart last month and the strategic dialogue between the two countries is expected to take place in January 2021.

The partnership between the two countries has particularly deepened over the last few years, coinciding with PM Modi’s decision to buy Rafale fighter jets. The two countries are also exploring joint manufacture of fighter jet engines and ancillaries in India that can power India’s indigeous LCA Mark II with a higher engine thrust.

That Paris had recently asked Qatar, which had also bought the Rafale fighter jet, not to allow Pakistan-origin technicians to work with the plane is indicative of the sensitivity that France has demonstrated to New Delhi’s security concerns, an official said.

New Delhi had reciprocated such gestures of the French leadership in October this year when it issued a sharply-worded statement condemning personal attacks targeting the French President from some Islamic countries such as Turkey and Pakistan for his stand on Islam and radicalism.