The French connection
Macron's four-day visit to India has been an outstanding success; we must build on it
French President Emmanuel Macron's visit to India has not been business as usual. In fact, it was aimed at doing business with a country that not has huge trade potential on multiple platforms. This visit is, perhaps, one of the brightest spots in Indian diplomacy ever since the two countries decided to elevate their relationship to a strategic partnership. India's bonhomie with France dates back to 1998. Ever since, the two counties have intensified bilateral trade and worked closely not just on a transactional basis on defence, technology to counter-terrorism. Macron's current visit though has served to deepen and broaden the partnership. Memorandum of Understandings worth $16 billion were signed between the two countries and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's by now signature grand welcome for special guests also had the desired impact.
First, on account of the fluid situation in a complex and ever-changing world order the spotlight of the visit was on the pact on Naval security especially in regard to the Asia-Pacific region. Both countries iterated their stand which respects freedom of navigation and increase maritime security and issued a Joint Strategic Vision for cooperation in the Indian Ocean region. Given Beijing's moves in the region, the move was necessary and apt. A freshly inked Indo-French logistics agreement will now not only allow each country's armed forces to access the other's ports and territories but also share expertise, supplies and services.
Another highlight of the new bilateral chapter was the International Solar Alliancewherein the two countries agreed to up their commitment to the promotion of global solar power and a consequent reduction of dependence on fossil fuels. This initiative will have a positive outcome as an Indo-French leadership of the climate change agenda now that the US has taken a step back will serve to reduce emission levels as well as increase both countries' diplomatic heft. It was natural for both France and India to reiterate their commitment towards fighting terror given the extent to which both nations have suffered from jehadi extremism in recent years. New Delhi has always been unambiguous about its position: India stands by all countries including France which have been a victim of terror. The sentiment is now being amply reciprocated by Paris. Several joint statements detailing bilateral mechanisms in counter-terror operations, including intelligence gathering and sharing, signified the determination of both countries on this front. This growing Indo-French assertiveness is indicative of the fact that both nations are thinking in a manner commensurate with the scale of challenge.
The deepening of the bilateral relationship which Macron's visit has successfully accomplished has also sparked hope in some quarters that with India's erstwhile all-weather ally Russia recalibrating its position to engage with China and to an extent even Pakistan, France may prove to be a replacement in the long-run. Post Brexit, France (along with Germany) is anyway the interlocuter of choice for New Delhi when dealing with the European Union, and an understanding of each other's concerns is essential for help in leveraging the India-EU engagement too. Increasing people-to-people contacts and cultural exchanges, despite the language barrier, must be the next step in Indo-French ties.
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