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China not hiding its global ambitions in the Indian Ocean, says France’s navy chief

NEW DELHI: Joint naval patrols in the Indian Ocean by India and France are likely from next year.  The French Navy Chief Admiral Christophe Prazuck confirmed moves in this direction at an event in Delhi on Monday, saying that  ‘I very much look forward to organising joint patrolling with the Indian navy in this area in 2020. The demand is increasing for Indo-Pacific patrolling and deployment year after year and I can see no reason for it to change in the coming decades.’

After discussions with his Indian counterpart Admiral Karambir Singh earlier in the day, he hinted at broadening the range of naval operations: ‘We discussed if there are any shortfalls in our co-operation and what we could do better, be it submarine or aircraft carrier operations. We also talked about terrorism though I cannot enter into details here.’
Bilateral strategic ties have been growing bolstered by some top of the line military purchases by India including the Rafale fighter, and the ongoing cooperation between Mazgaon Dock and the French Naval Group to build six Scorpene submarines in India.  France is also competing to win the contract for six advanced conventional submarines to be built here.

But Admiral Prazuck was particularly concerned about the violation of the ‘law of the sea’ in the South China Sea.  Paris will do everything possible to ensure stability in the Indian Ocean region, he said warning that a ‘resurgence’ of ‘power politics’ could prove to be the main contributor to instability in the region.

‘Many would ask why France is interested in the South China Sea as we are thousands of miles away. However, being a member of the UNSC, a firmly committed player to the international rules-based order and the fact that we have jurisdiction over the second biggest EEZ in the world at 11 million square kilometers, Paris is concerned about what it sees as a resurgence of power politics in the region. We want to ensure that the rule of law prevails,’ he said.

China was looking to expand its military footprint in the Indo-Pacific, he said and this ambition was changing the maritime landscape in the region.

‘The Chinese navy is not hiding its global ambitions with the result that the maritime landscape in the Western Indian Ocean has fast been changing. If you look before 2008, before the piracy crisis in Somalia, there were no Chinese ships in the western Indian Ocean. Today, they have a base in Djibouti and they might have another one in Gwadar. It is also worth noting that there are Chinese forces in the Gulf of Aden which are still there even though there are no more pirates in the region.’

France has good reason to be concerned about any changes to the ‘maritime landscape’ in the Indo-Pacific. Apart from the EEZ, the country has a territory of over 460,000 square kilometers, 1.6 million French citizens with over 200,000 French expatriates in the region. Currently, 7,000 French military personnel are posted there along with naval bases at key locations. There is a French base at Djibouti to secure the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, a narrow 50-km long stretch of water that separates the Red Sea from the Indian Ocean. The strait is a crucial chokepoint in the flow of energy. In recent times, Houthi rebels in Yemen have been active in this region seizing Saudi-led coalition vessels.


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