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SOURCE: HT

French President Emmanuel Macron’s top advisor Emmanuel Bonne and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval will tomorrow hold the annual strategic dialogue between the two countries that is expected to review the progress made in the 10,000 megawatt nuclear power plant to be set up in Maharashtra and building the six diesel-electric submarines under project P-75I for the Indian navy. Besides, the two top advisors will also share notes on improving maritime security and developments in the Indo Pacific region, particularly in context of China’s aggressive moves.

Bonne, President Macron’s diplomatic advisor, is expected to call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and external affairs minister S Jaishankar and meet foreign secretary Harsh Shringla on Friday.

“The two sides will hold discussions on wide-ranging bilateral and global issues,” the external affairs ministry said in a statement ahead of the strategic dialogue that will seek to reinforce deep ties between the two countries. France has been one of India’s most reliable partners in Europe for years but the two countries had inched closer over the last few years that led to a deal to buy 36 Rafale aircraft.

When French defence minister Florence Parly was in India last year in context of the induction of the omni-role fighter jets in the Indian Air Force, she and defence minister Rajnath Singh had agreed to stick to the Rafale template of government-to-government deals for future defence purchases.

India is expected to sign a $2.5-billion contract this year for 56 medium transport aircraft under the Make-in-India initiative. India is also looking at acquisition of six Airbus 330 multi-role transport tanker aircraft for expanding the Indian Air Force (IAF) strike capability through latest mid-air refuelers as well as the Safran aircraft engines under the ‘Make in India’ programme. The jet engines, which are used by Dassault Aviation for the Rafale jets, could be used to power the twin-engine advanced multi-role combat aircraft developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) till it develops its own version.

Officials said France had responded positively to New Delhi’s concerns about access of military technology to countries which have adversarial relations with India, a reference to Pakistan. France has decided against helping Pakistan upgrade its fleet of Mirage fighter jets, air defence system and Agosta 90B class submarines, a decision that was timed after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s loud criticism of French President Macron. Around the same time, France also conveyed to Qatar, which had earlier bought Rafale jets for its air force, not to allow any Pakistan-origin technicians near the aircraft for maintenance.

Pakistan watchers said that it was on account of the French government’s restrictive approach that the Mirage 3 and Mirage 5 fighter jets in Pakistan air force’s inventory did not participate in last month’s joint aerial exercises, Eagle-IX, involving the Chinese and Pakistan air force.

Doval and Bonne are also expected to discuss India’s other neighbour, China, in some detail, particularly given French concerns around Beijing attempting to flex muscles in the Indo-Pacific region. China has, for instance, been trying to get people in the French island group of New Caledonia to vote for independence in the three referendums being held to decide its future. This island group with an area of 18,575 sq km, located in the South Pacific east of Australia, is one of the 16 overseas territories of France that are home to 1.5 million French citizens.

In October last year, France had formalised its interest in the Indo-Pacific when President Macron appointed Christophe Penot, one of his country’s most senior diplomats as the first French envoy for the Indo-Pacific. As part of this focus, France has forged new initiatives such as the trilateral dialogue launched with India and Australia in September last to enhance cooperation and strengthen multilateralism in the region.