Ambassador Emmanuel Lenain’s interview to Press Trust of India

The spirit of the strategic partnership is to be by India’s side in very concrete ways not only in good times but also in tough times. Practically 22 years to the day, France decided to be at India’s side at a critical moment. Since then, this alliance between our two countries has never wavered.

1. How do you see India-France strategic ties, particularly in the area of defence and security and trade, going forward in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic?

As I often say to my Indian interlocutors, “strategic partnership” is not a mere political catchword – it’s a spirit and it’s backed by actions. The spirit of the strategic partnership is to be by India’s side in very concrete ways not only in good times but also in tough times. Practically 22 years to the day, France decided to be at India’s side at a critical moment. Since then, this alliance between our two countries has never wavered.

With regard to defence and security, our cooperation is continuing ambitiously.

With regard to maritime security, for instance, we conducted the first joint maritime patrol in late February off Reunion Island with the participation of a P81 patrol aircraft from India. It was a great success and we have decided to organise such operations regularly.

Moreover, we will have interactions at sea with the Indian Navy by the end of this year as part of the annual Varuna naval drills. We intend to maintain the ambition of this joint exercise, which acquires greater complexity and interoperability every year.

The cyberspace is probably the next looming crisis, and we must anticipate more than ever before and cooperate with India on this matter. The current public health crisis has revealed the magnitude of the challenges, and we wish to advance with India in the same direction on these issues.

We are in the process of implementing the cybersecurity and digital technology road map with our respective cybersecurity agencies on the one hand, and our ecosystems, on the other. We hold discussions on our 5G policy.
We could very well additionally discuss the issue of personal data protection, which has resurged in the context of app-based contact tracing for the pandemic. France has a longstanding policy in this matter and we could share it as India will be passing a law on this.

These examples show, despite the difficulties created by the virus, the extent to which our work is continuing because the political will of our leaders is very ambitious.

2. Do you think new power-dynamics will emerge in the post Covid-19 phase? What role you see for India and France in such a situation? What do you think is the biggest learning experience from the pandemic?

I think that this crisis has shown that France and India’s attachment to multilateralism is the right option for this century. None of the major issues that structure the future of the world – healthcare, of course, but also, the environment – can be dealt with in an isolated manner. It is through cooperation between States that we will be able to better the lot of our peoples.

I am delighted that the reform of the WHO, which France encourages, has found favour in India. India and France have coordinated well and continue to do so. However, we can do much more together. The COVID-19 crisis has shown us the importance of international cooperation on humanitarian issues. Our ministers of Health spoke to each other last month. France is very grateful to India for allowing the export of certain critical drugs for treating patients in intensive care. The two ministers agreed to deepen the cooperation after the crisis.

France and India also work together multilaterally, whether under the G20 or the WHO. It is very important for States to coordinate if we want the COVID-19 vaccine and/or treatment to be produced and distributed equitably worldwide. India will have an important role to play as a producer of medicines and vaccines.

As far as the environment is concerned, France and India co-chair the International Solar Alliance, which has made strides since its launch in 2016.

3. Do you think there must be a global investigation into origin of the virus and China should be punished if it was found responsible for spread of the infection, which killed over 310,000 people besides causing widespread economic devastation?

France and India have supported the European resolution for universal, timely and equitable access to all necessary products for countering the pandemic, and underscores the role of extensive immunisation against COVID-19 as a global public good. It has also asked, once it’s possible, for an impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation of the international health response to the crisis. Post-crisis, there will, of course be a time for analysing the alert mechanism to see how it can be improved.

4. There has been lot of speculation about delivery of Rafale jets to India. When the first batch of Rafales will land in India; as the deal part of an inter-governmental pact, can you assure that all the 36 jets will be supplied within prescribed timeline?

The contractual delivery schedule of the Rafales has been perfectly respected till now, and, in fact, a new aircraft was handed over to the Indian Air Force in end-April in France, in keeping with the contract. Further, we are helping the Indian Air Force in arranging for the ferry flight of their first four Rafales from France to India as soon as possible. So there’s no reason today to speculate that the schedule will not be maintained.

5. Would you like to comment on China’s aggressive posturing in the Indo-Pacific Region even when the entire world is focusing on containing the pandemic?

We’ve seen it over the past few weeks: the pandemic hasn’t made tensions abate in this region, particularly in South China Sea. We’re monitoring developments in the situation.

We are continuing information exchange and analysis with India on activities in the Indo-Pacific by strengthening ties between our maritime information fusion centres. This is thanks to our Liaison Officer posted since December at the IFC-IOR regional fusion centre, the first foreign officer to have joined the organisation.
We’re also very pleased that India joined the Indian Ocean Commission as an observer in March this year. We looking forward to this as an opportunity to further strengthen ties between India and CRFIM, the information fusion centre in Madagascar.

We are also moving towards the exchange of yet more sensitive information.

6. India is having to deal with cross border terrorism even now. Do you think the international community has to take a stern view of Islamabad’s support to terror groups notwithstanding continuous reprimand by the FATF?

France has always supported India in combatting terrorism in all its forms, including cross-border terrorism. The FATF is a very important tool for bringing this combat to terror financing: it is very vigilant about States applying appropriate international norms and standards, particularly in the case of Pakistan, which must pursue the implementation of its action plan.
We are pleased that fighting terror funding is an area in which we are working together with India. The third edition of “No Money for Terror”, which was launched by France in 2018, will be hosted by India.

7. Do you see possibility of joint research by India and France in dealing with such health crisis?

We already have research partnerships with India, as through CEFIPRA/IFCPAR, which coordinates our research efforts. As for healthcare, France and India have a longstanding cooperation, as can be seen in the instance of AIIMS Delhi and France’s Académie nationale de médecine (National Academy of Medicine), which have a dynamic partnership.

Last modified on 22/05/2020

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