India and France: Strategic Partners in the Indo-Pacific

by Neeraj A Sharma - 24 January, 2024, 12:00 350 Views 0 Comment

In recent times, the Indo-Pacific region has become increasingly significant on the global geopolitical stage, marking a shift from the Asia Pacific.

About 60 percent of the world’s population inhabits the Indo-Pacific and contributes to approximately 60 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. The maritime trade which is about 60 percent also passes through this region. The heightened strategic and economic significance, coupled with shifts in the global order, has led to increased competition among various geopolitical players in the Indo-Pacific region. India and France are the two major countries that have significant economic stakes in this region.

Considering the region, both India and Paris came up with a road map which is in the form of a document called “Horizon 2047”. The document says that both nations have expressed their dedication to collaborating, aligning with the common goal of fostering global peace and stability. They have restated their unwavering commitment to maintaining a rule-based order in the Indo-Pacific and other areas.

With India’s growing influence in global politics, the Indo-Pacific region holds paramount significance for the country, both in terms of economic advancement and strategic considerations. India stands still in its vision of a free, open, and rule-based Indo-Pacific region. India believes that influence by a single player in this region would be a barrier to growth and development. Hence, India supports an Indo-Pacific characterized by multiple tie-ups and a collective commitment to fostering shared prosperity among all stakeholders in the region. The significance of this region coordinates with India’s ‘Act East’ Policy and underlines the importance of India’s engagement with ASEAN nations, East Asian countries, and the Pacific region.

In 2015, India brought out an idea for the Indian Ocean region which was an initiative known as SAGAR (Security and Growth for all in the region). The first announcement was by the Honourable Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi in Mauritius. India seeks to enhance economic and security cooperation within this region with its neighbours and focus on fostering economic growth. Extending the SAGAR initiative, India introduced the Indo-Pacific Ocean Initiative (IOPI) in 2019, featuring seven pillars to reinforce maritime security, promote sustainable utilization of marine resources, and strengthen disaster prevention and management. France has concurred to collaborate with India on the pillars of Maritime Resources and Maritime Security.

France considers the Indo-Pacific region a “geographical reality” as it holds territories in both the Indian and Pacific Oceans, establishing itself as a resident power in the area. With a 1.65 million total population that is the French, is approximately 93 percent of the French Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). 8,300 French service members are positioned in this region by France.

France has formulated its Indo-Pacific strategy, outlining four core pillars to steer its actions in the region. Stretching from the coasts of East and Southern Africa, this area, according to France, encompasses North, South, and Central America.

As a significant member of the European Union (EU), France endorses the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy. The EU’s strategy document emphasizes seven priority areas, all aimed at upholding a rules-based international order with the UN Charter at its core, reflecting shared interests. It is crucial to highlight the alignment between the Indo-Pacific strategies of France and the EU. France emphasizes its commitment to fostering security, peace, effective multilateralism, an international order based on the rule of law, economic prosperity, and the promotion of global common goods. Therefore, both France and the EU share common concerns for the Indo-Pacific, which is also reflected in their respective strategy documents.

Significant shifts in the regional balance of power have occurred, largely attributed to the assertive emergence of China, particularly evident in the South China Sea and East China Sea, where it challenges freedom of navigation. Furthermore, the heightened geopolitical competition between the United States and China carries significant implications for both Paris and India.

Beyond its geopolitical importance, this region assumes increasing geo-economic significance for France. The evolving strategic challenges intertwine with prominent implications for geo-economics, given France’s substantial Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the area and vested interests in ensuring the unhindered flow of trade and commerce through the sea lanes of the Indo-Pacific.

Special attention should be given to the South China Sea, where France has a crucial stake. The ‘France and Security in the Indo-Pacific’ document highlights this matter, expressing that in the South China Sea, extensive land reclamation efforts and the militarization of disputed archipelagos have altered the established order, escalating tensions. The global repercussions of this crisis are substantial, given that a significant portion, one-third to be precise, of the world’s trade passes through this strategically vital region.

The East China Sea is located in the Western Pacific Ocean which is also an area of major concern.

Taiwan, strategically positioned in the region linking the East China Sea with the Sea of Japan, holds equal significance in the Indo-Pacific context. The Taiwan Strait, one of the busiest shipping lanes globally, serves as a crucial passage for trade routes to Europe and West Asia, with 88 percent of the world’s largest ships navigating through this strategic location.

55 percent of India’s trade in the Indo-Pacific passes via the South China Sea of which a significant portion goes through the Taiwan Strait. Any hindrance to the north of this region would hamper India’s trade flow. Ensuring stability and peace in the Indo-Pacific, particularly in the East China Sea and South China Sea region, is crucial for the geo-economic imperative of facilitating the unimpeded flow of trade and commerce.

Within the Indo-Pacific, the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) serves as a platform where India and France engage as dialogue partners to enhance cooperation with small island nations. Correspondingly, India inaugurated the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC) in November 2014.

Both nations also engage in trilateral discussions through the India-France-Australia trilateral dialogue, initiated in 2020. This dialogue is focused on ensuring peace, security, and compliance with international law in the Indo-Pacific. It encompasses three key pillars of cooperation and envisions exploring future opportunities, including the potential meeting of Foreign Ministers on the sidelines of the UNGA.

India and France collaborate in advancing clean and renewable energy through the International Solar Alliance (ISA), a significant initiative jointly launched in 2015 to harness solar energy technologies. Their involvement extends to developmental partnerships in third countries.

Beyond these domains, both nations share a deep concern for environmental and biodiversity preservation in the Indo-Pacific region. In 2022, a shared commitment to address the conversion of forests for agricultural purposes was established through the Indo-Pacific Park Partnership. This initiative revolves around three key themes: Biodiversity conservation, Sustainable tourism, and Governance reinforcement. The conversion of forests for agriculture and the issue of illegal logging are significant challenges for the region.

Collaboratively, India and France have worked on mobilizing funds through the Sustainable Finance in the Indo-Pacific (SUFIP) initiative. The French Development Agency (AFD) and India Exim Bank (EXIM) have partnered for this effort, focusing on addressing climate-related challenges in the Indo-Pacific. This initiative aims to accelerate the realization of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and contribute to achieving the objectives outlined in the Paris Agreement.

The Indo-Pacific has become notably prominent in recent times, evident in the evolving geopolitical and geo-economics interests of diverse stakeholders operating in the area. Emphasizing the significance of the present circumstances in the Indo-Pacific and its impact on India’s regional interests, Dr. S Jaishankar, India’s External Affairs Minister, remarked that India must “engage America, manage China, cultivate Europe, reassure Russia, bring in Japan.” This statement underscores India’s strategic approach in the region as encapsulated in the concept of ‘Sabka Saath and Sabka Vikas’ in its foreign policy.

Neeraj A Sharma
Author is Honorary Consul General of Republic of Palau to India

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