France, India deepen defence ties with key security deal

(From left) Mrs Savita Kovind, her husband and Indian President Ram Nath Kovind, French President Emmanuel Macron, his wife Brigitte and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a ceremonial reception at the Indian Presidential Palace in New Delhi yest
(From left) Mrs Savita Kovind, her husband and Indian President Ram Nath Kovind, French President Emmanuel Macron, his wife Brigitte and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a ceremonial reception at the Indian Presidential Palace in New Delhi yesterday. Mr Macron is in India for a four-day visit.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Accord aimed at countering the growing regional influence of China in Indian Ocean

NEW DELHI • French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday said defence ties with India have reached a new high after the two nations signed a key security accord to counter China's growing influence in the region.

Mr Macron, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his side, said: "Defence cooperation between the two countries now has a new significance." Under the deal, India and France will open their naval bases to each other's warships - a move seen as an attempt to undermine China's territorial ambitions.

Mr Macron, who is in India for a four-day visit, said: "A strong part of our security and the world's stability is at stake in the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean, like the Pacific Ocean, cannot become a place of hegemony," he said.

Mr Modi, who welcomed Mr Macron with a bear hug when he arrived on Friday, said the accord was crucial as the Indian Ocean region would play a "very significant role" in the days to come.

The comments from the leaders came after a slew of deals made by the two countries in the areas of defence, space and clean energy.

"From the ground to the sky, there is no subject on which India and France are not working together," said Mr Modi.

The two countries also signed a technical agreement for the French-assisted nuclear power project at Jaitapur in western Maharashtra state.

The US$9.3 billion (S$12.2 billion) deal for six reactors was signed during a visit to India in 2010 by then French President Nicolas Sarkozy. But the project has since run into stiff opposition from environmentalists concerned about seismic activity and the safety of nuclear power following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

Earlier in the day, Mr Macron talked about his personal rapport with Mr Modi, which was established after their meeting in Paris last year. "I think we have very good chemistry, our two great democracies have a historic relationship," Mr Macron said.

Mr Modi broke protocol to receive Mr Macron at the airport, exchanging warm hugs and robust handshakes. "You welcomed me in Paris last year with an open heart, and a lot of warmth. I am happy that I have got an opportunity to welcome you in India," Mr Modi said at the start of his speech yesterday.

French and Indian firms yesterday signed contracts worth €13 billion (S$21.2 billion), the French government said in a statement.

The deals include a contract for French firm Safran to supply the Indian airline Spice Jet with engines, and a water system modernisation deal with French firm Suez in the southern city of Davangere.

Industrial gas company Air Liquide and Indian mining giant Sterlite also signed a contract.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 11, 2018, with the headline 'France, India deepen defence ties with key security deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe