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In the midst of the submarine crisis and the announcement of a new strategic alliance between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, French President Emmanuel Macron and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi reaffirmed on Tuesday their will “to act jointly in an open and inclusive Indo-Pacific space”.

French President Emmanuel Macron and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke by telephone on Tuesday, September 21, reaffirming their desire to work together “in an open and inclusive Indo-Pacific space”, announced the Elysee.

The French Head of State “recalled France’s commitment to help strengthen India’s strategic autonomy, including its industrial and technological base,” said the French presidency.

This interview comes as Paris does not take off after the announcement, on September 15, of a new strategic alliance between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom (Aukus), which torpedoed a mega-contract of French submarines in Canberra.

The Elysee press release does not allude to it. But he underlines the common approach of the two countries, with “the ambition to promote regional stability and the rule of law, while ruling out any form of hegemony” in the Indo-Pacific, the epicenter of tensions between China and the United States.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was also due to meet his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on Tuesday in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

In a tweet, Narendra Modi underlined having discussed with Emmanuel Macron a “closer collaboration between India and France in the Indo-Pacific”, paying tribute to the “importance” of the bilateral strategic partnership.

India has it both ways

This conversation allows Paris to solicit an essential ally in the area, in particular against China, after a multitude of favorable signals: sale of Rafale to India, joint military operations in the Indian Ocean, opening to the Indian navy. French bases in Djibouti, the Emirates, Reunion, etc.

India wishes to collaborate with the democracies of the region, “this is the only way to build a balance of power and security at the level of the region”, explains to AFP Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at the Center for Policy Research (CPR), a private think tank based in New Delhi.

“Exclusive security agreements (like Aukus, editor’s note) militate against this vision,” he adds, noting that France was an “important” ally for New Delhi, like any other democracy.

But India will have to play finely between complex balances.

Because Australia is also an ally of New Delhi, which cannot allow itself to be drawn into a strategically unnatural and counterproductive dispute. India is, moreover, a major industrial partner of France in the field of armaments and intends to go further in this field with Washington as with London and Canberra.

“Modi’s pragmatism could play a role in helping Macron find the right moment to start reducing the affront” as it is experienced in Paris, believes in this regard Rory Medcalf, director of the National Security College at the University Australian National.

India, he explains in substance, must have it both ways. She appreciates France’s desire for autonomy. But she admits the need for Canberra to build a strong military deterrent against the Chinese. And keep in its small papers a fundamental alliance with the United States of Joe Biden.

The American president also brings together on September 24 in Washington the Prime Ministers of Australia, India and Japan to relaunch a diplomatic format, the “Quad”, which had been stagnant for several years. A platform that Modi could use to “support the role of the French in the region, while de facto admitting the Aukus as an alliance worthy of interest,” said Rory Medcalf.

With, in the background, India’s desire to remain at the heart of a game that is crucial for its security.

“That Delhi is today at the heart of a difficult conversation between the United States, Britain, France, Europe and Australia underscores the growing depth and diversity of ties between India and the different parts of the West, ”thus summarized in an article in the Indian Express newspaper C. Raja Mohan, director of the Institute of East Asian Studies at the University of Singapore.

With AFP