French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is on a three-day official trip to India, hoping to boost France's presence in the Indo-Pacific region. The visit will focus on climate change and academic partnerships, but has been hampered by a scandal surrounding sales of French Rafale fighter jets to Delhi.
During his visit to India, Le Drian is to discuss ways to strengthen cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, including a trilateral mechanism which includes Australia, to address emerging challenges in the maritime and space domains.
In talks with India's External Affairs Minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar,Le Drian has indicated that France will be part of India's Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI).
On the issue of climate change, speaking at a panel discussion at the French embassy in New Delhi, Le Drian said that France wants to work together with India in tackling climate change issues, focusing on action against single-use plastic, reducing CO2 emissions by using decarbonised hydrogen in power production.
Le Drian proposed to jointly focus on the "electricity mix" popular in France that is produced by both renewables and nuclear energy, illustrated by a 2019 memorandum of understanding between the CEA-Liten, a French company specialised in alternative energy production and storage, and the Indian National Institute of Solar Energy.
France also intends to increase the influx of Indian students into French institutes of higher learning in the framework of the "Young Leaders Program". In a speech at the French embassy on Tuesday, Le Drian said that France aims "to have of 20,000 Indian students in higher education institutions in France by 2025."
Days before Le Drian's visit to India, online investigative journal Mediapart published the third part of the Rafale Papers, which claim that in 2016, Rafale manufacturer Dassault Aviation and French defence electronics firm Thales paid "millions of euros" to Sushen Gupta, an influential Indian intermediary in arms deals after successfully "removing anti-corruption clauses from the fighter contract," for the sale of 39 Rafales to India, which was subsequently signed by Drian himself, then defence minister.
During a press conferenceon 8 April, the French Foreign Ministry denied involvement, saying "the choice of Indian industrial partners who were, are or will be selected by French manufacturers" and did not "confirm the details of the Mediapart article".
On 15 April, Le Drian will travel to Bengaluru, where he will visit theBangalore Life Sciences Cluster, which hosts French-Indian cooperation projects, and inspect the Human Space Flight Centre, where France partners India in the development of space technology.