Narendra Modi hails strategic partnership with France amid defence deals

Indian Prime Minister's visit to European nation seen as step towards deepening defence co-operation between the two countries

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Paris on Thursday for a two-day visit, which he said would give new “impetus” to his country’s strategic partnership with France.

Mr Modi has been invited to be guest of honour at celebrations for France's national day, Bastille Day, on Friday.

India announced a new multibillion-dollar deal for French fighter jets on Thursday, with the defence ministry saying it intended to order 26 more Rafale jets as well as another three Scorpene-class submarines, with the price and other terms still being discussed.

New Delhi is one of the biggest buyers of French arms and Mr Modi announced a major deal for 36 Rafale fighter jets during a 2015 trip to Paris worth about €4 billion ($4.4 billion).

“This closeness is not limited to just the leaders of two countries, it is in fact a reflection of the unwavering friendship between India and France,” Mr Modi told an enthusiastic crowd of Indians living in France on Thursday evening.

French President Emmanuel Macron told a meeting of military leaders he was “happy to welcome India as guest of honour to our parade”.

“It's a giant of world history which will have a decisive role for our future. It's also a strategic partner and a friend,” he said.

New Delhi sent a 269-member contingent of Indian armed forces for the occasion. At least three Indian Air Force Rafale fighter jets will take part in a flypast over the Champs Elysees, alongside French warplanes.

“An Indian tri-services contingent will be part of the Bastille Day parade, while Indian Air Force aircraft will perform a flypast,” he said.

New Delhi and Paris have shared strategic ties since 1998 and have remained multifaceted partners in sectors such as civil nuclear, space and maritime security.

Mr Modi said the partnership was rooted in deep trust and commitment.

“This year marks the 25th anniversary of our strategic partnership,” he said. “Rooted in deep trust and commitment, our two countries co-operate closely across various domains including defence, space, civil nuclear, blue economy, trade, investment, education, culture and people-to-people ties.”

The World Bank defines the blue economy as the “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem”.

Mr Modi added: “I am confident that my visit will provide a new impetus to our strategic partnership.”

He met Gerard Larcher, President of the Senate and celebrated with the Indian community at La Seine Musicale, the music and performing arts centre.

A private dinner is being hosted by French President Macron at Elysee Palace. The two leaders are expected to later hold discussions and meet business leaders from both countries.

Mr Modi’s visit to the European nation is seen as a step towards deepening defence co-operation between the two partners.

The visit is also significant as the nations are strengthening maritime co-operation with a focus on the Asia Pacific region where a Western alliance is challenging Chinese influence.

France is present in the region due to its overseas territories, and 93 per cent of its exclusive economic zone is in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

In a rare interview given to Les Echos, a French financial newspaper, at his home in Delhi ahead of his visit, Mr Modi said the aim of the partnership in the region was to “safeguard economic and security interests”.

“Our partnership, including in the Indo-Pacific region, is not directed against, or at the expense of any country. Our aim is to safeguard our economic and security interests, ensure freedom of navigation and commerce, and advance the rule of international law in the region,” Mr Modi said.

“We work with other countries to develop their capabilities and support their efforts to make free sovereign choices. More broadly, we aim to advance peace and stability in the region.”

The high-level meeting comes as EU parliamentarians in Strasbourg approved a motion that urged India to end violence in the country's restive north-eastern Manipur state and protect minorities there.

Clashes between the majority Meitei, who are mostly Hindus, and the mainly Christian Kuki tribe have left at least 120 people dead, 50,000 displaced and over 1,700 houses destroyed, the parliament said.

Updated: July 14, 2023, 3:42 AM