Looking beyond Covid-19, PM Modi and Macron solidify Indo-French partnership

By Ateet Sharma

New Delhi, May 27 (IANS): Solidarity shown in the fight against Covid-19 also continues to power the India-France strategic partnership as both countries have pledged to strengthen the relationship in the post-pandemic era.

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi thanked Emmanuel Macron, President of France, for his country's prompt assistance to India's Covid-19 response, the two leaders also discussed bilateral, regional and global issues, including cooperation in climate action and Indo-Pacific, during the phone call late Wednesday evening.

While Paris continues to supply medical oxygen generators, containers of liquid oxygen and specialized medical equipment to India through the unique, dedicated logistical 'air and sea bridge' via Qatar, PM Modi and President Macron dedicated a lot of time during their call last night discussing ways to deepen the Indo-French strategic partnership in defence, civil nuclear energy, the environment and maritime issues, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region.

Modi-Macron camaraderie has been on the rise in recent times. Last December, the Indian PM, while conveying his condoloences to Macron for the terror attacks in France, had reiterated India's full support in country's fight against terrorism, extremism and radicalism.

In October, India had also strongly deplored the personal attacks "in unacceptable language" on Macron, labeling them as "violation of the most basic standards of international discourse", while condemning the brutal terrorist attack that took the life of a French teacher in a gruesome manner that had shocked the world.

The friendship between both the countries continued to acquire new depth and strength in the following months as they worked on improving the affordability and accessibility of Covid-19 vaccines, post-covid economic recovery and several other areas.

The bilateral trade with France has witnessed a steady rise in the last decade reaching USD 10.75 billion in 2020. To tap the full potential of bilateral trade and economic relations, both sides have recognised the importance of fast tracking the discussions on an India-EU trade and investment agreement.

The growing bonhomie is also witnessed in the seas as the two friendly navies frequently showcase the increased levels of synergy, coordination and inter-operability to underscore the shared values.

In the 19th edition of the Indian and French Navy bilateral exercise 'Varuna-2021' conducted in the Arabian Sea last month, the French Navy had sent its state-of-the-art Aircraft Carrier Charles-de-Gaulle with Rafale-M fighter, E2C Hawkeye aircrafts and helicopters Caiman M and Dauphin embarked, Horizon-class Air defence destroyer Chevalier Paul, Aquitaine-class multi-missions frigate FNS Provence with a Caiman M helicopter embarked and Command and supply ship Var.

During his visit to India last month, Jean-Yves Le Drian, France's Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, the decision to enhance the decades-long Indo-French space cooperation was also announced as the French National Space Agency (CNES) declared that it will share its expertise in space medicine to push India's Gaganyaan human spaceflight mission.

On Wednesday, both leaders expressed their satisfaction at the positive outcomes of the recently concluded India-European Union Leaders' Meeting and described the announcements regarding resumption of negotiations for balanced and comprehensive free trade and investment agreements, and India-EU Connectivity Partnership as welcome steps.

Macron appreciated India's decision to join the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, a decisive initiative in view of the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille and the COP15 in Kunming. Both India and France also reiterated their support for the International Solar Alliance.

Indo-Pacific is the key priority

France remains an important partner as India continues to focus on the new avenues of cooperation in the Indo Pacific. Besides France, two other EU countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, have come out with their strategy papers on how they view the Indo Pacific and what role they want to play in that. The EU too has also come out with its own position paper on this particular issue, Secretary (West) in the Ministry of External Affairs, Vikas Swarup, had informed following the India-EU Leaders' Meeting.

Earlier this month, India's External Affairs Minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar, France's Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian and Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Marise Payne, met in London for the first India-France-Australia Trilateral Ministerial Dialogue on the sidelines of the G7 Foreign Ministers' Meeting.

India France

The three nations stay committed to advancing their shared values and working together to achieve a free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific. The Ministers reaffirmed their support for the rule of law, freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful resolution of disputes, democratic values, and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity. They had also reaffirmed their commitment to ASEAN's centrality and their support for ASEAN's Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, and noted its complementarity with India's Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative.

Underscoring their commitment to a reformed, UN-centred multilateralism, France and Australia had also reaffirmed their support for India's permanent membership of the UNSC. France had also recently joined India's Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) which is helping to shape maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific to support an open, inclusive, resilient, prosperous and rules-based maritime order.

Extraordinary solidarity operation during Covid-19

As India was hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic during the past few weeks, President Macron's initiative to organise support for New Delhi lies at the heart of the strategic partnership and friendship between the French and Indian people.

The massive 'oxygen bridge' operation, involving shipping medical equipment from France to India by air and sea freight via Qatar, has been designed to respond to the emergency and also to significantly boost the capacity of Indian hospitals. Implemented by both the governments, the Indian armed forces and assisted by cooperation from several French companies, it continues to deliver medical supplies to the coasts and airports of India.

Initiated on May 1, a fresh delivery of oxygen generator plants and medical equipment will be made in the coming weeks.

Macron on Wednesday reiterated the support and solidarity of the French people in the context of the deadly epidemic wave in India. He also reiterated the importance of ACT-Accelerator partnership - a groundbreaking global collaboration to accelerate development, production, and equitable access to Covid-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines - including the COVAX facility, to strengthen multilateral approach to the production, sale and donation of vaccines.



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