India and France on Wednesday agreed to set up an Indo-Pacific trilateral framework to roll out development projects, decided to expand strategic cooperation and vowed to work closely to deal with pressing global challenges such as food crisis triggered by the Ukraine war.
After wide-ranging talks with her Indian counterpart S Jaishankar, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna described Russian attacks on Ukraine as waging a “devastating war of aggression” on the territory of a sovereign state and that France is determined to work with India addressing the “terrible consequences” of the war.
Referring to the Indo-Pacific, she said many challenges have emerged because of China and both France and India share the same concerns “because we know the role that the Chinese are playing and we want to make sure there is no imbalance” in the region.
India and France also decided to expand cooperation in the Indo-Pacific under separate trilaterals with Australia and the United Arab Emirates.
Ms Colonna said France and India have always supported each other such a level of solidarity and trust is “rare and precious” in today’s world.
On dealing with the global food crisis, she indicated that an initiative could be proposed at the upcoming G20 summit in Indonesia to ensure that the most vulnerable countries “don’t remain too exposed to these food security issues.”
“When the core principles of the international rules-based order are flouted anywhere, they are weakened everywhere, including in the Indo-Pacific, where respect for international law has been undermined for some time now. India knows this better than anyone else,” she said about the conflict in Ukraine during a joint media briefing with Dr Jaishankar.
“As an Indo-Pacific nation, our commitment to the region is unwavering. The war in Ukraine will not affect that. And India is and will remain at the core of our comprehensive strategy for the region,” she said.
She said what applies to Europe and the Indo-Pacific applies everywhere, adding France and India reject a world where “might makes right”.
“This is the significance of our cooperation at the United Nations Security Council, where France will continue to continue to push for a permanent seat for India,” she added.
A French readout listed “Partnership for the Indo-Pacific and a rules-based international order” as one of the three key initiatives agreed by the two ministers.
“France and India share a comprehensive strategy for the Indo-Pacific that seeks to provide tangible solutions for maritime security, regional cooperation, climate change adaptation and mitigation, biodiversity protection, and healthcare,” it said.
It said the two sides agreed to work towards the establishment of an Indo-Pacific Trilateral Development Cooperation Fund that will support sustainable innovative solutions for countries in the region.
The two ministers decided to resume cooperation under the India-France-Australia Trilateral mechanism.
The other two initiatives are: partnership for the planet and sustainable development, and cultural and people-to-people ties.
The readout said India will be the first “country of honour” at the Sea Tech Week in Brest, France, a major international event bringing together blue economy stakeholders.
The ministers also welcomed the inaugural meeting of the Focal Points of the India-France-UAE trilateral framework and urged the officials to prepare an agreed roadmap for cooperation.
Both Ministers also expressed their interest in resuming cooperation under the India-France-Australia Trilateral mechanism.
The French minister called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and conveyed to him President Emmanuel Macron’s message of “friendship and cooperation. She also held talks with NSA Ajit Doval focusing on expanding defence and strategic ties.
The Ministry of External Affairs said Dr Jaishankar and Ms Colonna reaffirmed their shared commitment to deepening the India-France strategic partnership in view of continuously evolving geopolitics, particularly in the Indo-Pacific, where both countries are resident powers.
The ministers also appreciated progress in other existing areas of cooperation, including defence, civil nuclear, space, among others.
“As far as our relations with France are concerned, you are all aware that this is a strategic partnership. But perhaps even that term does not entirely capture how close and strong our ties have become in recent years,” Dr Jaishankar said.
Dr Jaishankar said his talks with the visiting minister on international issues of the day including the conflict in Ukraine, the tensions in the Indo-Pacific, the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, the developments in Afghanistan and the Iran nuclear deal.
On the Ukraine conflict he said there should be a return to dialogue and diplomacy.
“If you look…at the major countries of the world, two leaders who have been regularly engaging both sides to the conflict are PM Modi and President Macron. I think the end objective, which is a return to the negotiating table, is something that we share,” he said.
Asked about China’s aggressive behaviour in the Indo-Pacific, Colonna said: “we want to make sure that there is a balance of powers so that we can continue to support each other so that each of us can develop our own strategic autonomy but we also like to develop it on behalf of peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific as well as elsewhere.”
“Of course, we need to do more with India and with other partners as well so that we are more present. France is an Indo-Pacific nation as well as an Indian Ocean nation. In terms of aid, we will look at projects on which we can work together,” she added.
Ms Colonna said there is a difference in the way France and India look at the Ukraine crisis, and noted that Paris know the history of New Delhi’s relationship with Moscow.
“But that does not prevent us to have the same analysis of the causes, what we can do to deal with some of the consequences and what we need to say to the Russian president that is this conflict has to come to an end and we have to come back to respecting human rights and each other’s rights,” she said.
With regard to consequences of the war, food security issues are not a result of the western sanctions and that it was caused by Russia’s war on Ukraine.
On energy cooperation, Ms Colonna said the Jaitapur civil nuclear project is progressing well.
“I would like to recall that it would provide India with the largest nuclear power plant in the world to serve its goals of energy independence and the fight against global warming,” she said.
Dr Jaishankar said both sides agreed to work towards the establishment of an Indo-Pacific trilateral development cooperation that would facilitate development projects, especially in the framework of the International Solar Alliance.
“The Indo-Pacific trilateral would also provide a platform for Indian innovations and start-ups to demonstrate their relevance to the requirements of other societies,” he said.
In their talks, both the ministers welcomed the launch of India’s Unified Payment Interface (UPI) in France.
On defence industry cooperation, the ministers welcomed the Safran Group’s decision to set up their largest and first aircraft engine MRO (maintenance, repair, and overhaul) facility in Hyderabad.
The facility will be set up with an investment of ? 1200 crore (USD 150 million) and is expected to create about 1,000 high-skilled jobs in Telangana.
Ms Colonna also extended France’s full support to India’s upcoming G20 presidency.
In particular, France announced its support for Prime Minister Modi’s Lifestyle for the Environment (LIFE) initiative, and will seek to work with India on promoting sustainable lifestyles to fight climate change.