Sanjha Morcha

The French embrace Hard questions remain unanswered

The French embrace

The photogenic and politically correct French President Emmanuel Macron waltzed through his India state visit with the customary Parisian sophistication and panache by playing on South Block’s insecurities to set the stage for offloading more defence equipment on India. In brass tacks, the French signalled their intentions to supply two more squadrons of Rafale fighters; reopened conversations on a mega French nuclear power project; and won orders for their companies equal to one year of Indo-French trade. In return, India got a French offer to checkmate China in the Indian Ocean by the liberal use of each other’s naval facilities. The French astutely played on Indian susceptibilities and worries vis-a-vis a rising China to project themselves as India’s best allies. But will a French President, whose maiden overseas State visit was to Beijing, watch India’s back in a square up with China? Or when the Sino-French bilateral commerce is 10 times Indo-French annual trade? Paris, anyway, lost interest in South China Sea after being drummed out of Vietnam and Cambodia decades back. The second billing, after the joint Indo-French maritime alliance, was taken by the reopening of talks for French nuclear plants, rejected the world-over for their unproven technology and steep tariff. We are none the wiser about whether the French have patched up the security vulnerabilities in Scorpene submarines after 20,000 pages of its classified data was leaked to the media. The silver lining of Macron’s visit was the simultaneous staging of the first summit of the International Solar Alliance (ISA). France’s co-promotion of the ISA (along with India) brought in several heads of state from the mineral-rich Francophonic Africa where the Indian diplomatic footprint has been traditionally weak. The best challenge to China should be on land rather than in the oceans. India can do this in Africa by dovetailing the India-Japan led Africa Growth Corridor with an India-France trade centred foray in West Africa by riding on the opportunity given by the ISA. This approach will meet India’s prime aim of opening new trade avenues to compensate for the loss of existing ones due to the coming trade war.