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Modi in Paris: Why France cant ignore India's increasing influence

Paris? focus on New Delhi as a rising international player is getting stronger as the pair carve out a roadmap for strengthening ties

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's state visit to France as chief guest on Bastille Day on July 14 further consolidates the strategic ties between India and France. The French gesture flows from a growing recognition of India's rising international stature and its high economic growth. Already the world's fifth largest economy, India is expected to be the third largest by 2027. The country's young population, with skill development, can meet the manpower needs of aging industrial economies.

India's considerable military potential and expanding defense sector offers opportunities for defense sales and collaborations. France, always a significant defense partner of India, is now in second place after Russia. India-France economic ties being far below potential, France seeks more economic opportunities in India, as well as more Indian investment in France.

Paris sees New Delhi, which has the strongest navy in the Indian Ocean, as a major partner in the Indo-Pacific region, where France has territories and military presence. It is also concerned about China's growing presence and influence. Beyond this, on issues like climate change, nuclear power, renewable energy, space etc., France has a strong focus on India.

India assuming the leadership of the Global South, its role within the G20, in the G7 as an invitee, and its membership of BRICS and SCO, gives New Delhi an added value as a partner. France has cooperated closely with India on issues of terrorism, extremism, and radicalization, bilaterally and in the UN. The recent riots in France that demonstrate the internal challenges the country faces regarding its minorities can only help to strengthen the dialogue on these shared concerns.

For India, France has been the closest strategic partner since 1998, when India conducted its nuclear tests and France refused to impose sanctions. Paris also opened the doors to a strategic dialogue with India, the first country to do so. India and France have also cooperated over the years in the nuclear and space domains. France, as a nuclear power and a permanent member of the Security Council, attached to its strategic autonomy despite being in NATO, supportive of multipolarity, has been a particularly attractive partner for India in Europe. For India, unlike in the case of the US with its superpower attributes and intrusive policies, France as a "middle power" is seen as easier to deal with on an equal basis. Not surprisingly, French leaders top the list of chief guests at India's Republic Day celebrations.

During Prime Minister Modi's visit, decisions were taken to move forward on all these various aspects of India-France ties. The state visit, while celebrating 25 years of strategic partnership, was also an occasion to draw up a bilateral roadmap for the next quarter-century. The bilateral document adopted during the visit will cover the strengthening of economic ties, identifying joint initiatives in the areas of renewable energy, green hydrogen, artificial intelligence, semiconductors, cyber, digital technology, tie ups in the start-up and innovation ecosystems, technology supply chains, etc.

In the context of climate change, having established together the International Solar Alliance, the two countries are working on a roadmap in the areas of the blue economy and ocean governance. India, which is taking initiatives to deal with partners where possible in national currencies, agreed with France to launch India's UPI (unified payments interface) in France. The payment mechanism will go live by September 2023 with the Eiffel Tower as the first merchant in France to accept UPI.

India and France are pursuing an ambitious bilateral cooperation on advanced digital technologies, particularly in the fields of supercomputing, cloud computing, Artificial Intelligence, and quantum technologies, including in the framework of the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPIA).

In defense, Prime Minister Modi noted the strong defense pillar of the relationship, stressing India's Make in India' and 'Atmanirbharta' (self-reliance) goal centered on co-production and co-development, including in the construction of submarines and naval vessels. India visualizes more cooperation between the defense space agencies of the two countries. The project to build six French origin nuclear reactors at Jaitapur continues to be negotiated, with discussions also on Small and Advanced Modular Reactors. Space based Maritime Domain Awareness is a potential area of cooperation.

Significantly, prior to Prime Minister Modi's visit, it was widely reported in the Indian and the French press that India's decision to acquire 26 Rafales (naval version) for India's new aircraft carrier will be announced during the visit, as well as the construction of three additional Scorpene submarines by Mazagaon Dock in collaboration with the French Naval Group. Just before the visit, India's Defense Minister cleared in principle these two projects. However, the documents signed during the visit do not mention them.

Interestingly, the Rafale jets were in competition with the American F18s, while during the German Defense Minister's visit to India in June, Germany's Thyssenkrupp signed an MoU with an India company to participate in a submarine tender by the Indian Navy. Perhaps New Delhi decided at the last minute not to jump the gun as a long process of negotiations on price, work share, technology transfer etc. lie ahead. The joint statement merely says that "India and France are ready to explore more ambitious projects to develop the Indian submarine fleet and its performance."

It was agreed, however, that in the future, India and France will support the joint development of a combat aircraft engine, industrial cooperation for motorization of heavy-lift helicopters under the Indian Multi Role Helicopter [IMRH] program with Safran Helicopter Engine, France. A contract has been concluded between Safran Helicopter Engine and HAL for the Transfer of Technology of Forging and Castings for the Shakti Engine, as well as a MoU between Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Ltd. (GRSE), and Naval Group France to collaborate in the field of surface ships. To this end, both countries are also working towards adopting a Roadmap on Defense Industrial Cooperation.

Further to the Joint Strategic Vision of India-France Cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region adopted in 2018, a new Indo-Pacific Roadmap has been adopted. Trilateral cooperation with like-minded partners in the region will also be a key pillar of cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, in particular with the United Arab Emirates and Australia.

On terrorism, India and France will strengthen cooperation on all aspects to stay ahead of the evolving threat. This would include operational cooperation, multilateral action, countering online radicalization and combating financing of terrorism, particularly through the No Money for Terror (NMFT) initiative and the Christchurch Call to Action to Eliminate Terrorist and Violent Extremism Content Online.

On the Ukraine conflict, on which India and France have different views, India has stood by its known position. The joint statement makes no mention of the conflict. President Macron made a somewhat muted reference to Russia's invasion of Ukraine in the joint press conference, while Prime Minister Modi in his remarks referred to the global impact of the Covid epidemic and the Ukraine conflict, and expressed concern about how it was especially harmful to the Global South. To resolve these problems, he said, it was necessary for all nations to make joint efforts. He added that all differences should be settled through dialogue and diplomacy and that India was ready to cooperate for establishing durable peace.

All in all, a productive visit that seeks to promote shared interests in an increasingly fractured global environment.