Russia appears to be cooling towards India, can France replace it?

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French President Emmanuel Macron’s India visit has helped highlight a bilateral relationship that is far too understated for its own good. It is worth remembering that France was the only western nation that unambiguously supported India after its Pokhran II nuclear tests, refusing to impose any bilateral sanctions on New Delhi. As of now, Macron has emerged as a key force behind the European Union and is looking to increase French heft in the international arena. Moreover, he does not appear to have the same kind of zero sum view of international relations that President Donald Trump or the Chinese might evince.

In this regard, the joint strategic vision for cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region reinforces each country’s desire to create a free and open architecture in the Indo-Pacific that secures maritime security and upholds freedom of navigation and overflight. Adding teeth to this strategic convergence is the agreement on reciprocal logistics support that will allow Indian and French forces to access each other’s ports and bases in the Indian Ocean Region.

After the Logistic Exchange Memorandum of Agreement with the US, the pact with France will increase options for Indian maritime operations in the Indo-Pacific, countering the threat of a potential Chinese encirclement of India. Macron did sound a discordant note in hard selling Rafale fighter jets to India, of which India has already agreed to buy 36 despite doubts in the country about the expense of the deal. He is a man of ideas and one hopes he sees more in the relationship with India than a transactionalist view where India is merely a market for expensive fighter jets or nuclear power plants.

In that regard the memorandum of understanding on mutual recognition of academic qualifications with India is an encouraging step, as is Macron attending the founding conference of the International Solar Alliance in Delhi with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. One hopes this can lead to transfer of technology and joint production deals in renewable energy and other high tech fields, as well as in stepped up trade and investment ties. With Russia seeming to cool its strategic partnership with India and warming up to China, it is worth exploring whether France might fill this gap in India’s international relations.

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