While France is the biggest maritime power in the Indian Ocean, with bases in Reunion and Mayotte, it also has a presence in southern Pacific, with bases in French Polynesia and New Caledonia.
France and India on Saturday sealed a maritime cooperation agreement which would allow the Indian Navy ships to use France’s naval facilities in the Indian Ocean and the southern Pacific Ocean.
The provision of reciprocal logistics support between their Armed Forces was among 14 agreements signed between France and India during the three-day state visit of French President Emmanuel Macron in New Delhi.
A former commander with the Indian Navy, Abhijit Singh, hailed the agreement as a “great move forward that would allow India to expand its footprint not just in the Indian Ocean region, but also across the entire Indo-Pacific.
“This agreement with France will send a message to China that we are preparing to expand our own presence in our own backyard, which is the Indian Ocean, as well as near the South China Sea, which is considered as China’s sphere of influence,” Singh, now a maritime expert at New Delhi-based think tank Observer Researcher Foundation (ORF) said.
“France and India now have an understanding that they will be acting in tandem in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific,” he added.
While France is the biggest maritime power in the Indian Ocean, with bases in Reunion and Mayotte, it also has a onsiderable presence in the southern Pacific Ocean, with bases in French Polynesia and New Caledonia.
France has been at the forefront of freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea, near southern Pacific, and had offered to coordinate the navies of the European Union in 2015.
The French naval vessels have been operating in the South China Sea for years, having stepped up their engagement with Asia-Pacific powers since China started asserting itself in the South China Sea.
In recent years, the French Navy has carried out joint drills with Australian warships and Vietnamese defence personnel in November 2015. French ships also regularly engage with the Japanese Navy. China has maritime disputes with all its neighbours in the South China Sea, over which Beijing claims complete sovereignty.
The logistics sharing agreement between France and India also entails trilateral naval exercises, with Australia as the third participant.
Besides France, India has similar logistics sharing agreements with the US, Singapore and most recently, Oman.
France and India have also signed agreements on countering illicit drug trade, migration, technical cooperation in Railways, urban development, protecting classified information, nuclear cooperation, urban development, space exploration and education.