French President Emmanuel Macron just concluded his ‘strategically important’ four-day (March 9-12) visit to India.
Immediately after his arrival in New Delhi, the French president said that India is France’s most important ally in Asia. President Macron also said that his country wanted to become the most important partner of India in Europe. “We want India as our first strategic partner here (in Asia), and we want to be India’s first strategic partner in Europe, and even in the Western world,” he told the local media in the Indian capital of New Delhi. At the same time, Macron announced that Paris and New Delhi would take necessary steps to (jointly) counter China’s supremacy in the Indo-Pacific region.
During his stay in India, President Macron held separate meetings with Prime Minister Modi, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, President Ram Nath Kovind and other senior leaders to discuss different aspects of bilateral relations. In the presence of President Macron and Prime Minister Modi, top officials of the two countries signed 14 accords worth EUR 13 billion (or USD 16 billion). The French Presidency said in a statement that the deals included a contract for France’s Safran to supply airline Spice Jet with engines, water system modernisation by Suez in the southern Indian city of Davangere and a contract between industrial gas company Air Liquide and Sterlite.
President Macron with PM Modi, New Delhi
Interestingly, the French president backed India’s stand on the issue of ‘terror’ and the ‘Indian Ocean’. Speaking at a joint press conference (with PM Modi), he said that both the countries would take actions against financing of terror activities and radicalisation on the Internet. According to the French president, Paris and New Delhi will try hard to eliminate terror outfits by using military power. Otherwise, it would not be possible to restore peace, he said.
President Macron further expressed serious concern over China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean Region, saying: “After 20 years of strategic partnership between the two countries, now we should focus on our activities in the India Ocean as part of our strategic activities that are based on the Indian Ocean and also in the Pacific.” He informed the press that he discussed the issue with PM Modi and they decided to co-operate with each other (in an attempt to corner the Asian giant in its backyard). Later, the two leaders stressed in a joint statement: “This co-operation will be crucial in order to maintain the safety of international sea lanes for unimpeded commerce and communications in accordance with the international law for countering maritime terrorism and piracy, for building maritime domain awareness, for capacity building and for greater co-ordination in regional/international fora in the region.”
Meanwhile, France agreed to allow the Indian naval ships to use its ports. Similarly, French naval ships can use Indian ports for various purposes. According to sources close to the Indian Defence Ministry, France has several islands on the Pacific Ocean where India can set up military bases on the basis of bilateral strategic ties. In that case, it will be easier for India to counter the Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean Region.
Before leaving for Paris on Monday, President Macron inaugurated a solar power plant in northern Indian city of Mirzapur. The president and PM Modi pressed a button to energise the solar panels and dedicated the 75MW facility to the people of India. French firm ENGIE has built the plant at a cost of around INR 5,000 million, as around 118,600 solar panels have been set up in over 380 acres of land.
Mrs & Mr Macron visiting Taj Mahal, Agra
The Indian foreign policy experts are of the opinion that it would be important for New Delhi to develop strategic ties with Paris to tackle belligerent neighbours, like China and Pakistan. According to experts, President Macron had sent a strong message to the global community even before his arrival in India (with his wife Brigitte Marie-Claude Macron). In a rare first, he gave an interview from the Elysee Palace to an Indian television channel that broadcast the interview in prime time. And surprisingly, the French president spoke in ENGLISH, thus, symbolising the changing bilateral relations.
France and India, who celebrate 20 years of ‘strategic partnership’, have always maintained cordial relations and never allowed any major political difference to cast a shadow over their ties.
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