NEW DELHI: France is seeking a deeper strategic partnership with India in the Indian Ocean and is keen to have Australia on board to form a trilateral. Talks between India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and the visiting French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, later this week are likely to focus on the French proposal.
“France has strong interest in the Indian Ocean Region. We are working on more structures and more operational cooperation in preparation for the presidential visit early next year,” the French Ambassador in India, Alexandre Ziegler, said here on Wednesday.
France’s President Emmanuel Macron is scheduled to visit India in 2018. The dates for the visit have not yet been announced. A French diplomat said that France has 10 island territories in the Indian Ocean with an Exclusive Economic Zone of 2 million sq km, comparable to that of India.
France maintains two major naval bases, in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, and at Reunion Island about 175 south-west of Mauritius. The naval base in Reunion is France’s third-largest. Some of the island territories are south of the Equator. France has a near permanent deployment of 20,000 soldiers in the Indian Ocean, said the diplomat.
The proposal for more “structures and operational cooperation” is riding a crest in India-France military relations since Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in Paris last year the award of a contract for 36 Rafale fighter jets. The first French Scorpene-class submarine, built in Mumbai, is also due for commissioning.
Last year, India signed a Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) with the US. Indian warships and fighter aircraft will be able to refuel at US bases on a barter basis since the LEMOA was inked.
France’s proposal could now mean that both Indian and French, and possibly Australian militaries would develop “longer sea legs”.