France To Ramp Up Joint Patrols And Operations With India’s Armed Forces In The Indian Ocean

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New Delhi: A top French commander said that France will ramp up joint patrols and operations with India’s armed forces in the Indian Ocean to protect the interests of both countries, counter illegal activities and ensure an international rules-based order.

Vice Admiral Didier Maleterre, joint commander of French forces in the Indian Ocean and the United Arab Emirates, indicated that China’s presence at a string of civilian and military facilities, including Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Gwadar in Pakistan and Djibouti, has security implications for the Indian Ocean region.

Maleterre, here for discussions with his Indian counterparts, told journalists that besides securing sea lanes of communication used by merchant vessels, it is essential to protect undersea cables, including those in waters off Sri Lanka, which are used for 85% of the worldwide web.

In 2020, a P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft of the Indian Navy will go to Reunion Island, a French possession in the Indian Ocean, to conduct joint patrols with French frigates in strategic areas such as the Mozambique Channel, he said.

The two sides are also looking at joint patrols and operations in the northwestern Indian Ocean, including the Gulf of Aden, and greater coordination in the Strait of Hormuz, which saw several attacks on tankers this year.

There are also plans for a joint exercise with amphibious assets off the Goa coast next year and a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise in south India in 2021.

“Joint patrols with India is a new concept. We don’t have so many assets (in the region) and the agenda for next year will be very important,” Maleterre said. France will work with strategic partners such as India, the US and Australia to achieve its “very clear strategic and political objective” that the rules-based order remains intact and is respected, he added.

Maleterre explained France’s focus on the Indo-Pacific by citing two factors – the presence of 1.5 million French citizens on island territories, and the country’s exclusive economic zone of more than 11 million sq km, the second largest in the world, with 93% or 9 million sq km in the Indo-Pacific.

China, he said, wasn’t “hiding anything about its ambitions” behind the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is a strategy to protect sea lanes of communications and to extend its influence in eastern African countries.

“They have a plan to have bases in Hambantota, Sri Lanka, in Pakistan, in Djibouti and in other sites. For the French, we want the international law and order to be respected,” Maleterre said.

Noting that China first deployed its warships in the Indian Ocean in 2008 for the ostensible reason of tackling piracy, he said Beijing had gone on to deploy “more and more assets”, including destroyers and conventional and nuclear submarines. “These assets are not the best tool to fight against piracy, there is another ambition behind it, and we know that,” he said.

 

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