As Prime Minister Narendra Modi lands in Paris on Thursday, he will head straight to the Château de Chantilly, 60 km from Paris, for a bilateral meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, four days before the G-7 summit in Biarritz.
The meeting between Modi and Macron takes place days after French diplomats played a key role in favour of India at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) meeting in New York last week, where China had raised the issue of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K)during informal and closed-door consultations.
While Paris has not made any official statement, sources said that French support at the diplomatic level was more valuable than public expression of support.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Tuesday spoke to Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and conveyed France’s position on Kashmir: “it is up to the two countries, under the framework of their bilateral political dialogue, to resolve this dispute so as to establish lasting peace”.
So, Modi and Macron will be meeting in the backdrop of this diplomatic play on J&K.
While Macron is hosting the G-7 summit from August 24-26, Modi is the only leader for whom he is hosting a separate official visit ahead of the summit. The two leaders are expected to discuss the issue of the first Rafale aircraft being delivered to India in the third week of September. Sources said a ceremony is being planned for the handing-over of the first batch of fighter aircraft.
While defence has emerged as a strategic pillar of the relationship, India and France will have a new area of strategic convergence during this visit. A roadmap on “cyber security and digital cooperation” will be signed between the two sides, apart from the joint communique which will cover different facets of the relationship.
This area of cooperation in the digital domain will cover issues like Internet governance, operational and industry-level cooperation, super-computing or high-performance computing, cooperation in Artificial Intelligence, and countering terrorism in cyber domain. “This digital partnership will be spelt out in this roadmap,” said a source.
The two sides are set to sign a pact on maritime surveillance, as they plan the launch of 8-10 satellites as part of a “constellation” to keep an eye on China’s moves in the Indo-Pacific region. The purpose of the constellation is to monitor sea traffic management, sources said, adding that it would take less than five years to launch the satellites.
They are also likely to sign a pact on skill development and vocational training. Sources said the two leaders will also discuss the Jaitapur nuclear plant project, for which the final techno-commercial negotiation is expected to be concluded in the next two months.
They will also discuss how to increase the number of Indian students in France, after having achieved the target of 10,000 students in 2019 — ahead of the target year 2020.
Sources said Modi’s bilateral visit was earlier expected to take place on August 24, but was moved to August 22 as both sides wanted to have a proper bilateral “official” visit, which would not be clubbed with the G-7 summit.
Modi, who will drive straight from the airport to the bilateral meeting with Macron on Thursday, will spend the night in Paris. On Friday, he will meet French Prime Minister Edouard Charles Philippe, address an event of the Indian community at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, and inaugurate a memorial in Nid D’Aigle for Indian victims of the two Air India crashes in 1950 and 1966.