Updated: December 17, 2021 2:01:51 pm
Both India and France promote multilateralism and defence of a rules-based international order, and it is important to ensure that the Indo-Pacific region must be free from coercion by any player. France’s Minister for Armed Forces Florence Parly said on Friday morning during her day-long India visit.
Parly said that both nations “want to preserve the Indo-Pacific as an open and inclusive area” and added that “it must be free from any coercion and based on compliance to international law”.
The French Minister will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and other senior officials through the day.
Parly and Rajnath will hold the third Annual Defence Dialogue between India and France in the afternoon. The agenda includes military-to-military cooperation, defence industrial cooperation and exchanges on regional environment.
Speaking about the common challenges faced by India and France, before her official meetings, she said such challenges for both the nations are regional and global. Speaking about terrorism, which she said has struck both the countries, she mentioned, “The fight is not over. The threat of attacks on our countries has not disappeared.”
She referred to the situation in Afghanistan and said that it is a “matter of concern for both France and India” and the “threat needs to be addressed in a comprehensive manner”.
The second challenge, she stated, was “respect for international maritime law”. Some of the maritime lanes of the Indo-Pacific are “actually essential for the economic security of many states outside the region as well”. Nobody, she said, “should consider entitled to bypass” international maritime law.
She didn’t name China, but mentioned that two principles of the rules-based international order are that “disputes must be resolved” by arbitration and discussion, and not by “fait accompli” and the “freedom of navigation must be upheld.”
She also said that it is important to preserve the global commons such as sea, cyber and space domains, and the countries must work together so that though “these are areas of strategic competition” not, but it needs to be ensured that “they do not become the new far west”.
Speaking about the India-France relationship, “this friendship, this trust has developed and blossomed considerably in recent years” she said. She added that she does not “see France and India as two poles of an exclusive partnership. Rather a core of a network of cooperation. Already working together with the countries of the Indian Ocean, to respond to env disasters, and if possible, to address them.”
The Indo-Pacific is a “very wide area” and while the “political focus is more and more put on the eastern part of this large area due to the tensions in relation with China” but the region also includes the Indian Ocean “and there is no doubt that India is at the center of this area”. She mentioned that France has territories and over a million people living in the region.
“It is our joint responsibility to make sure that we can contribute to ease up the tensions there.” She said as per the Indo-Pacific strategy it was decided “that we should be more present, as France but also as the European Union in the Indian Ocean.” A maritime coordinated presence was tested, which could be extended to the Indo-Pacific.
She mentioned that as the EU council presidency next semester starting January 1, France has “great ambition for EU” in the defence sector, and intends to adopt the strategic compass unveiled last year. The very first defence white paper of the EU, she said, is being worked on and the Indo-Pacific is also on the agenda.
Asked about the relationship of France and the European Union with China, with which India has been involved in a military standoff for over 20 months now, Parly said that “it’s a delicate balance that must be found”.
She stated that China is a “major country, there are areas where cooperation can be envisaged and developed” and mentioned Climate Change and trade as two of those areas.
“But we see as well that China is getting more and more aggressive in the region. And it is even more specific when it comes to the China Sea. France, and if I may India, share the same views, something which is key: the international maritime law. The freedom of navigation.”
“We feel that sometimes those attempts to close this China Sea. We want to make sure the freedom of navigation is respected.” Which is why, she said, that “despite that we are far from our homeland, we deploy regularly our ships and navy to express our right to navigate freely in these waters.”
“When we started our Indo-Pacific strategy at a national level, we immediately thought that we should extend it” at the European level. “The idea we had in mind was to try to cooperate better to have a more continuous presence at the European level, in this area and in these waters. I think it’s good that many countries which are committed to the international rules based order, demonstrate in a very practical way their commitment by having ships circulating or sailing in these waters.”
She was talking at a discussion organised by the Ananta Aspen Centre on ‘How does France cooperate with India to defend a rules-based Indo-Pacific region?’.
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