French President Emmanuel Macron has landed in India for a two-day state visit that could yield strategic security deals between the two countries and strengthen a relationship that deliberately sidesteps Washington.
With Macron set to join Prime Minister Narendra Modi in celebrating India’s Republic Day on Friday, Paris is hoping to build on its military contracts after Modi purchased French-made Rafale fighter jets and Scorpene-class submarines last July, according to France24. Macron will also pitch selling six state-of-the-art nuclear reactors, the site reported.
While the alliance between Paris and Delhi could be crucial in containing China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean, many in Washington are worried that the two countries’ independent approach to foreign policy could impede U.S. global ambitions, such as countering Russia.
Paris and Delhi ‘shouldn’t orient foreign policy around countering U.S.’
Anxious about U.S. unilateralism, France and India have historically pursued ”strategic autonomy" in foreign policy and often sought to politically distance themselves from Washington, according to The Indian Express’s international affairs editor C. Raja Mohan. But with a second Trump term now a real possibility, the two countries should not actively work on countering U.S. policy and instead focus on “the real questions at hand” regardless of Washington’s stance, he argued. These include India’s role in European security, France’s role in deterring war in Asia provoked by Beijing, and jointly defending Red Sea trade routes, which is “more important for India and Europe than the U.S.,” Mohan said.
A strong India-France relationship benefits US interests
Washington has previously expressed skepticism over Paris’s relative ease in maintaining friendly ties with Delhi, but France is “in some cases better placed to build relationships of trust" in the Indo-Pacific, which ultimately benefit the U.S. foreign policy agenda, according to World Politics Review. While Delhi might tap France over the U.S. for deals on weapons and other defense equipment, it is preferable than Modi going to Putin for arms contracts, the editorial argued. The Western Indian Ocean is one of Washington’s “blind spots,” it said, and having the French military stationed there could help counter China’s growing presence in the region.
Controversial Hindu temple back in spotlight during Macron visit
Macron is visiting India just days after Modi inaugurated a controversial Hindu temple built on the site of a former mosque in the northern city of Ayodhya, and Modi played into the publicity by gifting Macron a replica of the temple on Thursday. Conservative commentators including former Times Now editor-in-chief Rahul Shivshankar are lauding Macron for accepting the gift. However, diaspora activists in France have blasted Macron’s appearance in India, with one Modi critic telling L’Humanité that his visit is “a scandal” that legitimizes Islamophobic politics that have fueled tensions between India’s Hindus and Muslims.