With an eye on China's growing military presence in the region, India and France today decided to ramp up cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and resolved to work closely with strategic powers to ensure regional peace and stability.
After extensive talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, French President Emmanuel Macron said the critical sea lanes cannot allowed to be places for hegemonic power play, in a clear reference to China.
A Joint Strategic Vision of India-France Cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region doucment was released after the Modi-Macron talks, which said the two leaders agreed on the need to establish an open, inclusive and transparent "cooperation architecture" to ensure peace, security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific.
"The two leaders are desirous of associating other strategic partners in the growing cooperation between India and France, as and when required and, in this regard, would establish trilateral dialogues," the document said.
India, the US and several other nations have been pressing for freedom of navigation in the disputed South China Sea. The US has been periodically sending naval ships and planes to assert freedom of navigation, much to the chagrin of China.
In November, India, the U.S., Australia and Japan gave shape to the long-pending Quad to develop a new strategy to keep the critical sea routes in the Indo-Pacific free of Chinese influence.
Modi and Macron also welcomed the signing of pact on the reciprocal logistics support between the armed forces, including the two navies. The pact will provide for the use of each other's military facilities, including opening naval bases to warships.
"As the leaders of two strong democracies with vital interests in the Indian Ocean Region, President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Narendra Modi recognise the crucial role that the multi-dimensional India-France strategic partnership will play in ensuring peace, security and stability in bringing robust economic growth and prosperity to the region," the document said.
"In order to widen and deepen strategic naval cooperation, India and France will be open to inviting strategic partner countries in the region to participate in Indo-French exercises," the document said.
It said the two countries are also determined to increase exchange of information on the maritime situation in the Indian Ocean.
Macron said space agencies of both countries will have joint monitoring mechanism for developments in the maritime sphere, while navies of the two nations will share intelligence and call their respective military bases for any requirement.
The two leaders, recalling the importance of the Varuna bilateral exercise initiated in 1983 between the navies of the two countries, agreed to deepen it further to enhance interoperability between the two navies.
"Its next edition, to be held in 2018 in the Indian Ocean, will focus on submarine and anti-submarine warfare as well as combating maritime terrorism," said the vision document.
A memorandum of understanding between the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Centre national d'etudes spatiales (CNES- National Centre for Space Studies) of France was signed to develop a maritime surveillance satellite system focused on the Indian Ocean.
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