Macron’s India Visit: A Powerful Political Message

President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to India as the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations had a ceremonial aspect, but it conveyed a strong political message at various levels. The visit highlighted the importance of the relationship between the two countries and the investment made in the future. It also served as a signal to other nations. When Prime Minister Modi was honored by President Joe Biden during his visit to the US in June 2023, it underscored the US’s efforts to strengthen ties with India for larger strategic goals. Ceremonial gestures are an integral part of diplomacy and hold significant substance.

In 2023, Modi himself was the Guest of Honour on Bastille Day in Paris, which demonstrated France’s desire to establish stronger all-round ties with India. France recognized India’s growing economy, diplomatic influence, and shared strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific, making it an investment in the future. The two countries aim to find common ground on climate change issues, a major concern in French society. Additionally, France seeks to leverage its capabilities to foster connections with India in areas such as defense, advanced technologies, and the digital domain. India can serve as a springboard for France to engage more with the Global South, which is increasingly assertive in its demands and interests within the global system dominated by Western powers.

As India draws closer to the US and its membership in the Quad, France, with significant interests in the Indo-Pacific, aims to carve out an independent role for itself and not be subsumed under US-led structures. This aligns with France’s pursuit of “strategic autonomy.” India is an obvious partner for France in this pursuit. For India, a closer strategic partnership with France in the Indo-Pacific is diplomatically important as it conveys the message that security concerns in the region are shared by a major European power, not just the US, Australia, and Japan. The joint statement emphasizes the significance of the Indo-Pacific region for the strategic interests of both countries.

The joint statement explicitly states that defense and security partnership have been the cornerstone of the India-France partnership in the Indo-Pacific region. This is significant as the security threat in this region originates from China. Macron referred to the activities of “some hegemonic powers” in the Indo-Pacific during his banquet speech. The two sides have also agreed to enhance their cooperation in the Southwest Indian Ocean, including joint surveillance missions, to contribute to the security of strategic sea lanes of communication. They also plan to revitalize trilateral cooperation with Australia, deepen their partnership with UAE, and explore new opportunities in the region. The joint statement reflects the intention to coordinate economic projects and programs in the Pacific, further expanding India’s role in the Indo-Pacific.

The joint statement acknowledges the exceptional trust, confidence, consistency, and strength of the partnership between India and France since the declaration of their Strategic Partnership in 1998. The commitment to a multipolar world and strategic autonomy aligns with France’s vision of Europe playing a separate strategic role from the US, based on its own priorities and interests. India sees multipolarity as essential for global rebalancing, UN, IMF, and World Bank reforms, and giving more voice to developing countries in international governance. India’s support for multipolarity is evident in its participation in BRICS and the SCO. Multipolarity in Asia is seen as a crucial step towards achieving a multipolar world.

The joint statement includes France’s support for India’s candidacy to the International Energy Agency and the establishment of a Comprehensive Dialogue on Global Issues. The need for UN Security Council reform and the commencement of negotiations at the Intergovernmental Negotiations in the UN are also emphasized.

Defense cooperation has been a vital aspect of India-France ties dating back to the 1950s. Claims that France prioritizes arms sales to India are cynical and overlook India’s agency in the matter. India considers France a valuable defense partner that is increasingly willing to transfer technology and has never imposed sanctions or attached conditions to arms sales. The joint statement recognizes the progress made in defense and security partnership, which is seen as a principal pillar of the partnership, strengthening their countries’ sovereignty and strategic autonomy. Collaboration spans intelligence and information exchange, exercises, equipment, and extends across various domains, including the seabed and space. The leaders have committed to deepening integration between the two countries’ defense industrial sectors and identifying opportunities for co-design, co-development, and co-production. This aims to fulfill India’s defense needs and provide a reliable source of defense supplies to other friendly countries. The joint statement mentions specific areas of collaboration, such as MRO for Rafale engines, a comprehensive helicopter partnership, and the construction of Scorpene submarines in India.

In the space sector, the joint statement envisions co-development, manufacture, and launch of satellites and payloads, research in new launch vehicle technologies, and collaboration between startups and users in both countries. A long-term partnership on satellite launch missions is planned through an MoU between NSIL and Arianespace. The leaders have also welcomed…

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