Strategic Significance Of Macron’s Visit To India – Analysis


India and France firm up ties to reshape the world order using their complementary strengths        

French President Emmanuel Macron’s participation as the Chief Guest at the Indian Independence Day parade in New Delhi on January 26 was an accident, but it turned out to be one of immense strategic significance.

The original guest was US President Joe Biden, but Biden opted out at the last minute, apparently put off by an alleged Indian plot to kill a US citizen, the Sikh separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, in New York. 

While, Biden lost an opportunity to cement US-Indian ties in a rapidly changing world, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi filled the breach quickly and shrewdly by inviting France’s Emmanuel Macron to be the chief guest. And the equally creative Macron responded positively and with alacrity. There was a message in this to the US from New Delhi and Paris. 

Compared to India’s relationship with the US, India-France ties have been less problematic. Unlike the US, France does not comment on India’s human rights record or its internal affairs, issues on which the Modi government is touchy. The fact that both India and France were engaged in a search for “strategic autonomy” in world affairs, was also a cementing factor. 

If France is engaged in finding an independent role for itself in the world without being tied to the apron strings of the US, India is wanting to chart an independent path using its new-found strengths, untied to any restrictive alliances. France was put off with the US and UK when the latter conspired to make Australia cancel a nuclear submarine deal with France. 

Macron’s independent outlook was praised even by China’s Global Times. It said: “Macron is a pragmatic leader. He dares to break barriers. This is not only reflected in his domestic reforms but also in his foreign policy decisions. Macron visited China with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyden and showed a strong willingness to cooperate with China, even as the US increased its containment against China.” 

As for India, while being a strategic partner of the US, it follows an independent foreign policy. It has not criticized traditional friend Russia for its attack on Ukraine. It has defied the US sanctions regime and bought oil from Russia. It has defied US policy on Iran and is getting close to it to get access to Central Asia, circumventing hostile Pakistan. 

“Macron sees his partnership with India as an important component of engagement with rising powers and a demonstration of France’s ability to offer the Indo-Pacific an alternative to China, an economic alternative which the US-led QUAD is not able to give,” wrote Chloe Laird and Jason Moyer in the Wilson Center website in November 2023. 

“France and India’s strategic partnership has seemingly endless potential. Both have similar views on energy and security, and both possess the economic, political, and geopolitical clout to effect real change.”   

“The marriage of France’s traditional power, sprawling diplomatic alliances, and entrenched position in the international order with India’s rising-power status, growing economy, and a willingness to challenge global norms and traditions to reshape geopolitics make the pair formidable,” the authors added.  

Furthermore, India and France seek to maintain credible, homegrown defense capabilities which has led both to become nuclear powers—and fiercely defend their independent strategic direction. 

Laird and Moyer point out that over the past decade, France has become India’s largest arms supplier after Russia. The Russo-Ukraine war and US sanctions on Russia have made Russia a dubious arms supplier and that should benefit France. Between 2017 and 2021, India was France’s top buyer of arms, purchasing 29% of its exports.

The Joint Communique issued at the end of the Macron visit says that France would support India’s bid to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council and discuss the regulation of use of the veto in case of mass atrocities. 

The two leaders agreed over the reform of Multilateral Development Banks to make them better, bigger and more effective. They also stood for enhanced cooperation between the Paris Club and India in official debt restructuring cases.

Defense and security partnership has been the cornerstone of India-France partnership in the Indo Pacific region. They agreed to explore opportunities for coordinating economic projects and programs in the Pacific.  They agreed to intensify their cooperation in the Southwest Indian Ocean, building on the joint surveillance missions carried out from the French island territory of La Reunion in 2020 and 2022. They welcomed the extension of those interactions in India’s maritime neighborhood.

The two leaders resolved that the respective defense industrial sectors should work together to identify opportunities for co-design, co-development, co-production with the objective of not only fulfilling the defense needs of the Indian armed forces, but also of providing a viable and reliable source of defense supplies to other friendly countries. 

They noted that defense industrial collaboration, especially from the design stage, not only creates quality jobs for the youth and supports a broader progress in scientific, technological, digital and material sciences fields. The two leaders welcomed the adoption of an ambitious Defense Industrial Roadmap.

In this context, they welcomed the progress in the establishment of the Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facilities for Leading Edge Aviation Propulsion (LEAP) engines in India by the French design company Safran SA. They also noted plans to add MRO for Rafale engines; a comprehensive helicopter partnership with a Joint Venture for the IMRH engine between Hindustan Aeronautics and Safran SA, and also the Scorpene submarines constructed in India, including indigenization.

The two leaders welcomed the establishment of the Strategic Space Dialogue, launched in June 2023 to provide strategic guidance and direction across the all aspects of space cooperation envisaging co-development, manufacture and launch of satellites and payloads, research in new launch vehicle technologies and reusable launch vehicles and connecting the startups and users in both countries. 

They reiterated the strategic significance of cyberspace and welcomed discussions on deeper collaboration on resilient cyber infrastructure and enhancing cyber preparedness through the first India-France cyber security dialogue held earlier this month.

Both leaders acknowledged the India-France civil nuclear ties and efforts in cooperation on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, notably in relation with the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant Project. They agreed to convene a special task force on nuclear energy within three months in the framework of the Indo-French Strategic Dialogue. 

The two leaders welcomed the establishment of the Strategic Space Dialogue, launched in June 2023 to provide strategic guidance and direction across the all aspects of space cooperation envisaging co-development, manufacture and launch of satellites and payloads, research in new launch vehicle technologies and reusable launch vehicles and connecting the startups and users in both countries.

Both sides reiterated deepening of scientific and technical cooperation in areas such as Coastal Ecosystems, Blue Carbon Ecosystems, Fisheries, Marine Spatial Planning and Coastal Resilience. 

Prime Minister Modi welcomed the strong growth in investments by French companies, including SMEs, across a broad range of sectors in India, which contribute to expand the pool of quality jobs and internships for the Indian youth and French VIEs. Both leaders welcomed the decision of Airbus in partnership with Tata Advanced System to begin the assembly of civilian helicopters in India.

They both acknowledged the importance of the Fast-track mechanism, a unique bilateral forum to address issues pertaining to investments. Both sides highlighted the emergence of France as the most attractive investment destination in the Europe and of India as the fastest-growing major economy, driven by ambitious and bold reforms in both countries. 

Modi and Macron were on the same page on the Gaza war, condemning the terrorist attack on Israel on October 7, 2023 and the humanitarian crisis created in Gaza thereafter, but without pointing a finger at Israel or naming Hamas. They called for the release of Israeli hostages, facilities to send humanitarian aid, and talks aimed at a “Two- State” solution for the Palestine-Israel question.

They also pledged to jointly address the threat to international shipping in the Red Sea but without mentioning the Houthis.

(This article appeared in Daily News on January 30, 2024)

P. K. Balachandran

P. K. Balachandran is a senior Indian journalist working in Sri Lanka for local and international media and has been writing on South Asian issues for the past 21 years.

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