Foreign Secretary Harshvardhan Shringla arrived in Paris on Thursday, just hours after another deadly suspected terror attack in France, in which three people were killed by a knife-wielding attacker inside a church in Nice.
The attack was condemned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who expressed solidarity with the French people.
“Our deepest and heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and the people of France. India stands with France in the fight against terrorism,” Mr. Modi tweeted.
Ahead of the visit, the External Affairs Ministry had condemned a similar beheading of a school teacher in a Parisian suburb last week, and backed French President Emmanuelle Macron against “personal attacks in unacceptable language” made by Turkey and Pakistan.
“We believe there is no justification for terrorism,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said on Thursday, when asked about the latest attack.
During his visit, Mr. Shringla, who is due to travel to Germany and the United Kingdom next as part of the week-long three-nation tour, is also expected to focus on strategic partnership, cooperating on the Indo-Pacific, and dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
“The in-person consultations with European interlocutors are another step in India’s pandemic-age diplomacy,” Mr. Shringla tweeted.
The MEA said several aspects of dealing with COVID-19, including cooperation in the development of a vaccine, diagnostics and testing, procuring medical equipment and ensuring safe treatment, as well as dealing with the post-Covid impact on the economy are on the agenda for talks.
In particular, the MEA spokesperson said talks would include “enhancing supply chain resilience”, indicating that concerns over an over-dependence on Chinese manufacturing over the past few months, which has been shared in Europe, would also come up.
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“This is part of our continuing outreach despite the COVID-19 pandemic. We share democratic values with them, they are our strategic partners. We have multidimensional relations with them,” Mr. Srivastava said, referring to the three-nation visit, adding that the Foreign Secretary would discuss India’s “commitment to a free open and inclusive Indo Pacific”, as well.
Mr. Shringla’s travels follow the Indo-U.S. 2+2 consultations in Delhi this week, where U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also highlighted the need for countries to cooperate on the Indo-Pacific where he said the Chinese ruling party “CCP is no friend to democracy, the rule of law, transparency, the freedom of navigation [which is] the foundation of a free and prosperous Indo-Pacific.”
The visit by Mr. Shringla is a push for “proactive diplomacy” by the MEA, after months of virtual meetings. Mr. Shringla, who is expected to travel to the neighbourhood including the Maldives in November, has travelled only to Bangladesh and Myanmar during the past few months. During his stops in Paris, Berlin and London, the Foreign Secretary is expected to interact with business chambers, academics and media.
“This was an Indian initiative, and we are delighted to host the Indian Foreign Secretary at a time when it is complicated for us to meet in other situations,” a European diplomat said, referring to the fact that many other high level meetings and summits are still being held in the virtual format due to the pandemic.