This is your first official trip outside of Delhi since the outbreak of the pandemic. What brings you to Chandigarh?
France and Ville Belle share many links, from the work of Le Corbusier to our permanent cooperation in smart cities, including technical assistance from the French Development Agency since 2016. French companies are world leaders in the field of smart cities. sector of sustainable cities and are committed to providing their expertise. This is one of the main objectives of my visit: to further expand this cooperation to develop a model of sustainable urban life – which is even more crucial after the pandemic.
French architect Le Corbusier designed Chandigarh, India’s first planned city after independence. What can France and India do together to preserve this heritage?
Chandigarh is an architectural site of major importance, unlike any other in the world, and France is happy and honored to contribute to its preservation, working hand in hand with the city authorities. The objective is to protect the buildings themselves, which were appraised by a French expert mission in February, but also the thousands of pieces of furniture created by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret. I am delighted to announce that a second mission will take place soon, which will focus on how to monitor, protect and restore this movable heritage.
How do you see Franco-Indian relations at this time and in the context of India’s border standoff with China?
The last few months have shown that Indo-French friendship is even stronger in difficult times. We have helped each other in the fight against Covid-19, and commitments such as the on-time delivery of the Rafales have been kept despite the pandemic. With regard to the border situation, it is important that de-escalation and disengagement take place through dialogue, which is the path chosen by India. France will always support India’s strategic autonomy. Our interests have always been remarkably aligned, and they will be even more so in the post-pandemic world.
Is there a possibility of French involvement in the Quad group of nations? How do France and India cooperate in the Indo-Pacific?
France is itself an Indo-Pacific nation. We do not see cooperation in this region as a question of formats, but rather as shared values and a desire to achieve concrete results. This is the basis of our ambitious cooperation with India: we share intelligence analysis, we make sure our navies can work together, we support each other in regional organizations. We are ready to work with other like-minded countries, such as in the recently launched trilateral dialogue with Australia.
What future for Indo-French defense cooperation? Is it still limited to a seller-buyer relationship?
Our defense cooperation is above all based on mutual trust. Take the Rafale fighter for example: it takes great confidence on both sides to share a military asset so close to the heart of our sovereignty. In addition, Indian companies will benefit from compensation up to 50% of the Rafale contract, including through technology transfer. French defense companies have been contributing to Make in India for decades and will continue to do so.
France supports India’s candidacy for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. What would India’s presence at the high table mean for France?
We see India as a major and responsible power, committed to a rules-based multilateral order. In a time of growing tensions, the world needs countries like India that have both the means and the will to defend collective solutions and international law. That is why India deserves a permanent seat and would be a force for good in the UNSC. We will continue to push for this. In the meantime, we plan to work closely with India as it joins the UNSC in 2021-2022.
In the education sector, there is enormous potential for bringing together French and Indian universities and for greater student mobility. What can be done to improve them?
Indeed, the potential is immense. Indian students are very talented; 10,000 of them chose France in 2019 and we want to welcome more and more. France was the first country to reopen visas for Indian students in August, and French universities are doing everything to ensure the best and safest study conditions despite the pandemic. We also wish to strengthen the links between our academic institutions: this is the objective of the bilateral knowledge summit, the third edition of which will take place next year in India.