Syllabus subtopic: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India's interests
Prelims and Mains focus: about Indo-France defence ties, security threats in the IOR and their impact on India’s interests, belt and Road initiative
News: India and France are ready to sign a pact on securing communication links between their top military officials in a sign of their deepening defence partnership, especially in the Indian Ocean region.
This comes against the backdrop of an increased Chinese footprint and the persistence of Islamic State. The pact with India will be the first outside the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance for France.
Indo-France defence cooperation
The two countries have scaled up defence cooperation with a logistics support pact signed last year.
Geography and commercial interests dictate India’s strategic interests in the Indian Ocean region. France has territories with 1.5 million of its nationals and 9 million sq. km of French exclusive economic zone in the Indian Ocean, which requires Paris to keep a close eye on the region.
India and France also want to ensure that the Straits of Hormuz in the energy-rich but politically volatile Gulf region with Iran and its neighbours remains peaceful.
There is also the threat from the Islamic State that both sides, particularly France, are keen to combat.
A third common interest is the steadily increasing presence of China in the Indian Ocean.
Issues in the Indian Ocean Region
There is a lot of unregulated fishing in this ocean, which is a big issue for all the countries, particularly for East African countries. They need these fisheries because of the protein coming from the Indian Ocean.
If not controlled, it could be pillaged and if it is pillaged, it could be contested like what we see in the South China Sea (competing claims by China and its neighbours over the South China Sea that has led to friction in the region).
China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a strategy to protect its Sea Lanes of Communication and Chinese interest in Hambantota in Sri Lanka was suspected to be aimed at ensuring a permanent presence in the form of a base there.
India-France Defence cooperation
Indo-French cooperation in this area is ambitious and several collaborative projects are currently being considered. Bilateral military contacts are being strengthened through joint exercises.
France and its defence industry also actively contribute to the “Make in India” programme in the defence sector. The first conventional submarine, Scorpene, which started being built in India in 2008 with transfer of technology and support from DCNS, began sea trials in 2015, and the second in January 2017. An agreement on India’s acquisition of 36 Rafale fighter jets was concluded in September 2016. This has paved the way for unprecedented technological and industrial cooperation for the next four decades to come.
Maritime security cooperation: France and India’s respective leaders desired in March 2018 to give a fresh impetus to this longstanding area of our cooperation, which was initiated with the launch of the first bilateral naval exercise, Varuna, in 1983. Now bolstered by a joint strategic vision in the Indian Ocean, the cooperation between our two countries has become resolutely operational in several areas:
Exchange of information in the area of maritime surveillance: implementation since 2017 of a “White Shipping” agreement and the conclusion in March 2018 of a general security agreement laying down the framework for the daily exchange of data on the Indian Ocean region for the purposes of security and stability in the region.
Heightened cooperation at multilateral bodies: France and India are determined to deepen their coordination at international organisations through concrete steps: support to France’s candidacy at the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), where India plays a prominent role; France’s chairing of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) in 2020, which will be an opportunity to closely associate India with France’s priorities.
Note: To know about other areas of India-France cooperation, click on the link below:
The Belt and Road Initiative is a global development strategy adopted by the Chinese government involving infrastructure development and investments in 152 countries and international organizations in Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas.
“Belt” refers to the overland routes for road and rail transportation, called “the Silk Road Economic Belt“; whereas “road” refers to the sea routes, or the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.The BRI announced in 2013, is made up of a “belt” of overland routes and a maritime “road”, which aims to connect Asia, Europe and Africa.
It was known as the One Belt One Road (OBOR) and the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road until 2016 when the Chinese government considered the emphasis on the word “one” was prone to misinterpretation.
The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road designed to provide an impetus to trade from China to Europe through the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, and from China through the South China Sea towards the South Pacific.
The Chinese government calls the initiative “a bid to enhance regional connectivity and embrace a brighter future”. Some observers see it as a push for Chinese dominance in global affairs with a China-centered trading network. The project has a targeted completion date of 2049, which coincides with the 100th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.
Significance of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Project
In the wake of the global slowdown, BRI offers a new model of development to China to maintain its economic growth. OBOR envisions building networks of roadways, railways, maritime ports, power grids, oil and gas pipelines, associated infrastructure projects which helps Chinese economy.
BRI has domestic and international dimension: as it visualises a shift from developed markets in the west to developing economies in Asia, Africa And a shift in China’s development strategy concentrating on provinces in central and western China instead of the developed east coast region.
Strategically important as China utilizes its economic clout to build it soft power.
Why India is boycotting Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Project?
CPEC violates India’s sovereignty as it passes through the part of the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir that belongs to India and no country can accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity.
India also raised concerns regarding unsustainable debt trap, environmental concerns, and transparency in assessment of project costs, and skill and technology transfer to help long term running and maintenance of the assets created by local communities.
India is too big to be isolated and India’s continued objection will make China to consider its core concerns.