France has assured India of “steadfast support” of its armed forces, as the Defence Minister of the Western European nation, Florence Parly, wrote to her counterpart, Rajnath Singh, condoling death of 20 Indian Army soldiers in the June 15 clash with Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) personnel at Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh.
External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar, and his counterpart in French Government, Jean-Yves Le Drian, too spoke over the phone on Tuesday and discussed “issues of contemporary security and political importance”. Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and his French counterpart François Delattre also had a video-conference on Monday.
The back-to-back contacts between New Delhi and Paris came amid continuing military stand-off along the disputed India-China boundary in eastern Ladakh. The more than seven-week-long stand-off took New Delhi’s relations with Beijing to a new low, particularly after the violent clash between the soldiers of the Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) – the de facto boundary between the two nations – at Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh on June 15.
The Indian Army lost 20 of its soldiers in the clash. The Chinese PLA too suffered casualties, but it did not make the number of its soldiers, who were injured or killed in the violent face-off, public
“This was a hard blow against the soldiers, their families and the nation. In these difficult circumstances, I wish to express my steadfast and friendly support, along with that of the French armed forces,” Parly wrote to Singh. “I request you to kindly convey my heartfelt condolences to the entire Indian armed forces as well as to the grieving families.”
France is likely to deliver to India the first batch of the Rafale fighter jets by the end of July. India had signed an inter-governmental agreement with France in September 2016 to procure 36 Rafale jets manufactured by the Dassault Aviation for the Indian Air Force (IAF).
Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year joined French President Emmanuel Macron to reaffirm “shared commitment to maintaining freedom of navigation, particularly in the Indo-Pacific zone”, sending out a signal of growing strategic convergence between India and France against the hegemonic aspirations of China.
Like India, France too has substantial geopolitical interests in western Indian Ocean and southern Pacific, with a large number of its military personnel deployed in the region. France has territorial control over Réunion and Mayotte islands in the Indian Ocean and New Caledonia and French Polynesia in the Pacific. While over 60 per cent of France’s Exclusive Economic Zone is in the Pacific, over 20 per cent is in the Indian Ocean. Djibouti on the Horn of Africa has a base of French Army.