Tribune News Service
New Delhi, November15
Ahead of the visit of French foreign minister to Delhi this week to lay the ground for President Emmanuel Macron’s first India visit early next year , France has expressed keenness to work more closely in the Indo-Pacific region.
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will hold formal talks with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and meet other ministers, including Arun Jaitley and Prakash Javdekar, this Friday.
A top French diplomat today said quadrilateral security dialogue as an alternate to China’s Belt and Road Initiative will be part of formal talks.
“We will discuss all issues, including Chinese initiative on which we have a clear stance. We support all connectivity initiatives as long as they respect international norms and sovereignty of countries. India and China know it very well,” said the diplomat.
But the diplomat clarified that while looking at more areas of multilateral cooperation, France is more keen on bilateral cooperation with India in the Indo-Pacific and IORA (Indian Ocean Rim Association).
Delhi and Paris hold a yearly maritime security dialogue in the Indian Ocean.
India’s oldest military exercise with a foreign nation happens to be the naval exercise ‘Vahuna’ with France that began in 1983.
While the exercise is not comparable to the India-US-Japan joint Malabar exercise in size, another French official added that there is no use in ‘broadening for the sake of broadening.’
France is stressing upon two specifics — geography and the strategic partnership, the oldest one that India forged with a country in 1998. It was the first strategic partnership for France in South Asia.
France happens to be the only western country with an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and territory in the Indian Ocean.
Of France’s global EEZ of 11 million square km, more than 9 million square km is in the Indo-Pacific and several islands in the Indian Ocean.
Stressing that India and France have close links and shared interests in the region, especially around Madagascar Islands, and Seychelles, the French official reminded that Reunion Island has one million French citizens of which more than 30 per cent are of Indian origin.
France has its third largest naval base in Reunion Island and permanent naval bases in UAE and Djibouti too where the Chinese have recently developed a foothold.
“The idea will not be for France to join something else but for others to join what France is doing,” responded the senior official in response to a query if France has been asked to come into the room for the quadrilateral dialogue.
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