Interaction with H.E. Mr. Emanuel Lenain, Ambassador of France
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The heath crisis brought upon by the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has opened up a pandora’s box of crises worldwide. As different countries reel under the economic recession and related socio-political challenges, the still ongoing pandemic has reinforced the existing trends in global geopolitics. Foremost among this is the debate over nationalism versus globalism and great power rivalry. As the Covid-19 spread and country wise response has demonstrated, even the strongest advocates of internationalism were forced to look inwards while dealing with the crisis. This raises questions over the future of the emerging world order which would necessitate new tools of cooperation. To deliberate on the future of the altered world order post COVID-19 as well as to address the future Indo-French cooperation, the Vivekananda International Foundation organised a virtual discussion with the French ambassador H.E. Mr. Emanuel Lenain on 21 May. The discussion saw in attendance several distinguished diplomats and researchers closely following the developments in France and the European Union.

As countries with strong civilisational cultures, India and France occupy a unique place in the current scheme of things. Both have traditionally sought to balance their national sovereignty while subscribing to globalisation owing to their shared vision of making their respective strategic choices. Both the countries also project a similar outlook towards a balanced multipolar world based on the rule of law. At the same time, both countries also face similar challenges in the domain of security, international terrorism, etc.

India and France have shared an amicable partnership which has grown substantially (especially in the defence sector) in recent years and carries immense scope for future engagement. Amidst the new realities presented by the COVID-19 crisis, the way ahead for Indo-French cooperation rests on five pillars or priorities.

The first pillar entails joint promotion of an effective multilateral system. In this context, the reform of the World Health Organisation (WHO) remains an area of importance. Although imperfect in its present form, the organisation is a pillar of global health governance and must be strengthened to deal with global health issues. Both India and France have supported the resolution seeking an‘impartial’ and ‘independent’ review of the WHO’s response to COVID-19. Drawing from the current scenario, there is a need to push for creating a transparent verification mechanism while also introducing new ways of finance to make the organisation less dependent on certain states.

The second shared Indo-French priority lies in ensuring a free and stable Indo-Pacific. Even in the midst of the ongoing health crisis, France and India have maintained a regular flow of informationregarding activities in the Indo-Pacific regionto ensure maritime awareness. In this context it is pertinent to note since December 2019, a French Liaison officer is posted at the Information Fusion Centre for the Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR), which in turn is entrusted with the task of collating, fusing and disseminating intelligence on ‘White Shipping’ in the Indian Ocean.

New Security threats form the third area for cooperation. These include data protection, space cooperation, supercomputing, artificial intelligence which form the core of strategic cooperation along with the growing traditional security cooperation.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has restricted human exchanges for the time being, people to people contacts would continue to be an important pillar for India-France engagement. Despite the crisis, France has set major targets with respect to attracting Indian students. The country aims to welcome more than 20,000 students by 2025. The goal is to turn the crisis into opportunities to enhance partnerships in education, research and development as well as cultural ties.

Finally, COVID-19 is another stark reminder for the need to deal with environmental challenges. Thus, combating climate change forms an important pillar for Indo-French cooperation. The cooperation in the International Solar Alliance (ISA) is important in this context.

To conclude, the COVID-19 crisis has revealed the pre-existing challenges in global geopolitics and brought to fore the divisions present in the international community. Issues like climate change, erosion of biodiversity, global inequalities in wealth, globalised terrorism, and cyber threats are not restricted to a single region and require collective action. Dialogue and cooperation in these domains also present opportunities to strengthen Indo-French cooperation.

Event Date 
May 21, 2020

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