France is calling the shots in the EU after Merkel’s exit, and French President Emmanuel Macron has a clear priority- reinventing EU’s Indo-Pacific policy that kicks out China and gives India a pivotal role.
So, you may be wondering why France and India have joined hands to reset the rules of the Indo-Pacific? I mean what makes these two countries and their partnership so special? Well, both these powers are going through an era of quick resurgence in their respective regions, both of them share similar interests and ideologies. And both of them have a common goal- eliminating China. It is all set to start with the Indo-Pacific forum to be hosted by France in February.
France snubs China
After former German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s exit and the rise of an anti-China foreign policy establishment in Berlin, French President Emmanuel Macron has emerged as the tallest leader in the EU. As a matter of sheer fortune, Paris is also holding the Presidency of the Council of the EU.
So, Macron can for once shape an anti-China EU policy, and he is doing exactly that. Paris will host an Indo-Pacific forum next month during which EU Ministers will meet Foreign Ministers of 30 Indo-Pacific countries. The forum will witness attendance of regional powers like India, South Korea and Japan.
Smaller archipelagos like Comoros and Micronesia too have been invited. However, China is conspicuously missing. As per the French government, the event will focus on “the challenges security and defence, digital issues and connectivity, in the context of the ‘Global Gateway’ initiative on global infrastructures, as well as global issues.”
Global Gateway is EU’s model of rivalling Chinese President Xi Jinping’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
France and India setting the rules of the region
China not getting invited is something that you would expect. But just like China, the United States of America too hasn’t been invited. So, this is where the plot thickens.
France wants an entry in the Indo-Pacific. But it isn’t going to take the US route and is preferring to take the India route instead. India plays a central role in the Indo-Pacific and at least in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), it enjoys a central position.
As for the US, French President Emmanuel Macron has no love left for Biden after the AUKUS fiasco. Paris realised that partnership with Washington is not going to work in the Indo-Pacific, because Biden will pursue his interests even at the cost of US allies.
And then, Macron wants to play the leadership role in the EU and handle the China threat. His hawkish China approach doesn’t align with Biden’s soft corner for Beijing.
What makes India important for France?
France itself has interests in the Pacific and East Africa, and Macron wants to protect them from an expanding China. The Sino-French competition over the French overseas territory of New Caledonia shows exactly why Paris wants to push back against growing Chinese influence. Macron has even talked of the “Paris-Delhi-Canberra axis”.
For New Delhi, it means that France and India share a similar definition of the Indo-Pacific from East Africa to the Pacific.
India also helps France in finding a reliable partner, which won’t place its interests ahead of its allies unlike the US. India brings considerable soft power to the table that helps Paris find greater acceptability.
ASEAN countries, for example, find it difficult to embrace Western powers because of their anti-neocolonial ideology and trust issues. Yet, they respect India’s equitable approach in international affairs and if there is one power that can outcompete Beijing in such countries, it is New Delhi.
And not just the ASEAN, India also has good ties with powers like Japan and Russia. This brings France and India on the same page. Paris and Tokyo have been collaborating their anti-China strategy already. And France also wants to follow a friendly, diplomatic approach for resolving the Russia-Ukraine crisis instead of blindly following Biden’s sabre-rattling on the issue.
Finally, the AUKUS deal had frayed France-Australia ties, but India can use its close ties with both these countries to iron out any differences that may have arisen between the two countries.
France wants to remould the Indo-Pacific to marginalise China. And it is joining hands with India to do so.