A significant visit

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has concluded a substantial India visit which can help lift some of the barriers that may be blocking the emergence of a full-blown strategic partnership between the two countries. Free from verbiage, Mr. Fabius’ visit had a hard-nosed businesslike feel to it. Cash-strapped France seemed focussed on trading some of the blue-chip kernels of its hi-tech industry. India, on its part, looking to bolster its military preparedness, energy security and international profile, was prepared to calibrate a hard bargain. The recognition by New Delhi and Paris that a win-win outcome was indeed possible seemed to have yielded significant progress during the visit towards clinching the multibillion dollar Rafale aircraft deal, and the stalled contract for two French nuclear reactors. With a capacity to generate 1,650 megawatts of power each, a breakthrough in the deal for the two reactors could clear the path for the establishment of four additional reactors of similar capacity at the Jaitapur site in Maharashtra. An installed capacity of nearly 10,000 megawatts would not only boost French nuclear commerce, but also make a vital contribution to satisfying India’s energy hunger.

In dealing with the French, the Indian side has made it clear that it is not interested in a pure buyer-seller relationship with France in the hi-tech domain. As a result, complex negotiations are under way — both on the Rafale and the European Pressurised Reactors (EPR) — that would not only give India the final product, but also implant frontier technology within the country through transfers of state-of-the-art know-how. The induction of the 126 Rafale fighter jets would also help cement the air-dominance doctrine of the Indian Air Force (IAF), which has already benefited from the inductions of the Russian Su-30 MKI multi-role planes and other advanced platforms. Mr. Fabius’ arrival in New Delhi has provided an opportunity to quickly finalise the Indo-French nuclear deal, which is possible if the two parties arrive at a formula that would lower the costs of atomic power generation at Jaitapur. During talks, India has demanded greater “localisation,” which would expand involvement of domestic industry in the project, as well as provide greater scientific and technical exposure to Indian personnel to Light Water Reactor (LWR) technology that the French have mastered. At a political level, the Minister’s visit has provided New Delhi an opportunity to advance its ties with continental Europe, which revolves around a Franco-German core. This is significant, as Europe, despite undergoing a rapid political and economic transition, would continue to remain a major player in a multipolar world, which India needs to engage vigorously.

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Printable version | Sep 21, 2021 11:54:31 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/a-significant-visit/article6174391.ece

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