Co-development rather than co-production will be focus of India-France ties, sources say

NSA Doval meets French counterpart to discuss preparations for the PM’s visit next week; deals for Rafale-M planes for the navy and the joint development of jet engines for fighter aircraft are on the table

July 06, 2023 10:46 pm | Updated 11:25 pm IST - NEW DELHI

NSA Doval meeting French delegation led by France Diplomatic Advisor Emmanuel Bonne.

NSA Doval meeting French delegation led by France Diplomatic Advisor Emmanuel Bonne. | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Co-development, rather than co-production, will be the focus of India-France ties, as the two countries prepare to mark 25 years of their strategic partnership next week, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi travels to Paris to attend France’s National day parade.

On July 6, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval received his French counterpart Emmanuel Bonne, diplomatic advisor to French President Emmanuel Macron, with the “main agenda” of making preparations for the visit, government sources said.

“Defence, energy, space, new technologies and more: We are working on an ambitious agenda for the strategic partnership,” said a tweet from the French Embassy in Delhi.

Defence deals

According to sources aware of the plans, France hopes to see a number of contracts and agreements announced during Mr. Modi’s visit. Deals for Rafale-M (marine) planes for the navy and the joint development of jet engines for fighter aircraft are on the table for the talks.

The discussion on jet engines — for an agreement between the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and French defence major Safran — is significant, as it comes on the heels of the GE-HAL MoU announced during Mr. Modi’s visit to Washington last month. The sources pointed out that the Indo-French deal would not be simply to “transfer production” to India, but a partnership between engineers of both countries to research and develop technology for a new engine together. The deal with Safran has been speculated about especially after the Prime Minister met with Safran group chairman Ross McInnes in Delhi in April this year to discuss possibilities in the Indian aviation market, defence and space.

In 2015, Mr. Modi had made a break from the tradition of not signing defence deals during Prime Ministerial trips, when he announced the purchase of 36 “ready to fly” Rafale fighter jets while he was in Paris. Officials said they hoped to see similar announcements during the upcoming visit.

Space, nuclear collaboration

India and France are also hoping to strengthen ties over collaboration in space that dates back to the 1960s, when the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and its French counterpart Centre National de Etudes Spatiales (CNES) worked on setting up rocket launching facilities in India. Apart from collaborations in launching satellites, the two sides are looking at training astronauts and partnerships in space industrial engineering, it is learnt.

In addition, the two sides hope to make some progress on the long-stuck nuclear deal for reactors in India, and on education opportunities and visas for students.

However, the major spotlight will be on charting the future course for the India-France strategic partnership for the next 25 years, they said. Originally signed in 1998, this was India’s first strategic partnership agreement with any country.

Strategic partnership

In particular, India and France share a commitment to “strategic autonomy” in their foreign policy. In April this year, Mr. Macron had ruffled feathers around the world after a visit to China, where he said that European countries should not become “vassals” to the U.S.’s policies, referring to China. While both countries see China as a strategic threat, including at the Line of Actual Control with India and in the Taiwan straits, they also have interlinked economies. Despite tensions at the border and virtually no political dialogue between Delhi and Beijing, bilateral trade has been climbing year on year, and the trade deficit crossed $100 billion for the first time last year.

Similarly, French officials have made the point that French ties with China are more “complex” than any one issue, and Mr. Modi and Mr. Macron are expected to discuss the issues with handling China at some length. France has launched its own independent “Indo-Pacific” strategy, and hopes to discuss more naval exchanges, including exercises, joint patrol, reconnaissance operations and port calls to the French Indo-Pacific island of Reunion. It would also like to see the Andaman Islands base becoming a promising new area of strategic cooperation.

Mr. Modi will be the chief guest at the Bastille Day parade on July 14, the second Indian Prime Minister to be accorded the honour after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2009. Mr. Modi and Mr. Macron will inspect the march past including Indian soldiers, and a flypast that will include Indian Air Force pilots in Rafale jets in the sky.

(with inputs from Dinakar Peri)

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