Ambassador Emmanuel Lenain’s opinion piece in The Times of India
France will act in concert with India to ensure a free, open and secure Indo-Pacific region.
New Delhi, 9 December 2019
Ahead of assuming my post in India in September 2019, I called on President Emmanuel Macron, who briefed me on my remit: the first was to consolidate Indo-Pacific ties based on shared values and principles.
For France, as for India, the Indo-Pacific is a threefold reality.
First, a geographical reality, as civilisational and commercial ties have linked Africa and Asia through the Indian Ocean for centuries. Today there is what we may term a culture of shorelines uniting the region’s countries.
Second, a national reality, as France, like India, is an Indo-Pacific rim nation and an actor in the region. We are present through our overseas territories stretching over 4,60,000 sq km, our population exceeding 1.6 million, and our armed forces.
Third, the Indo-Pacific is above all a strategic reality, with security, economic and environmental dimensions. Not only is the region exposed to the threats of piracy and illegal maritime trafficking, terrorism and the security consequences of climate change, but it also lies at crossroads of global maritime trade and digital flows, and harbours fish stocks and energy reserves that are vital for humanity.
This multidimensional reality calls for a dedicated global approach that will enable us to preserve our sovereignty, protect our exclusive economic zones, guarantee respect for international law, and promote multilateral solutions.
The French vision of the Indo-Pacific has three pillars.
The first pillar, Security, involves collectively ensuring the security and stability of this region by sharing our analyses of the maritime situation, carrying out surveillance missions, and strengthening the capacities of the region’s countries.
The second pillar, Environment and blue economy in particular, focusses on developing marine economy in a way that is sustainable and resilient to global warming. Protecting marine biodiversity is crucial for our coastal communities.
The third and last pillar, Connectivity, aims to meet the region’s huge needs in terms of infrastructure and harmonisation of standards. This would involve strengthening transport and digital links as well as people-to-people ties. Connectivity must be economically sustainable and respect the sovereignty of states.
We act on these three pillars and want to act with India.
We have a joint Indo-French strategic vision on the Indo-Pacific since March 2018, which has given a tremendous boost to our navies’ decadal cooperation. This has been stepped up in all aspects: information exchange through our bilateral white shipping agreement; analysis sharing, reinforced with the French liaison officer who joined IFC-IOR this very month; joint military exercises, with the increasingly complex Varuna naval exercise; and even capacity building. From this very high point, we are looking to raise the sensitivity of the information exchanged, increase interoperability, and build synergy with other actors in the region to either act with or for them.
On blue economy, France and India have much common ground, which we need to translate into further action. Last month, at a business forum in Reunion Island with regional leaders, including India’s minister of state for external affairs, President Macron urged the attendees to better seize the economic opportunities of the Indian Ocean region and enhance cooperation in the marine and maritime sectors. France is ready to work with India on preserving marine biodiversity, port-led development, and scientific research for the sustainable governance of oceans. We are looking forward to participating in the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced last month.
Connectivity will also be an important focus area in the coming years: France, the European Union and India can together promote high standards for connectivity in the Indo-Pacific.
Last but not least, multilateralism and regional integration in the Indo-Pacific is of paramount importance. We wish to act together with India in appropriate fora to pursue our joint goal of ensuring a free, open, and secure Indo-Pacific.
The way ahead is clear.
Given our shared principles and values, our mutual strategic trust, our excellent cooperation already underway in several domains, France and India are ready to build and develop their Indo-Pacific agenda together for the coming years. The fourth edition of our maritime security dialogue in Delhi this week will provide the next opportunities for it.