France today described India as its "foremost" strategic partner in Asia and said the upcoming visit of its Defence Minister Florence Parly to the country is aimed at further strengthening the "forward-looking" defence cooperation with New Delhi.
Ms Parly will visit India on Thursday to attend a ceremony in Ambala to induct the first batch of five Rafale jets into the Indian Air Force (IAF).
The French Defence Minister will hold talks with her Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
A Defence Ministry spokesperson said Ms Parly will be given a ceremonial Guard of Honour on her arrival in Delhi.
The first batch of five Rafale jets arrived in India on July 29, nearly four years after India signed an inter-governmental agreement with France to procure 36 of the aircraft at a cost of Rs 59,000 crore.
In a statement, the French embassy in New Delhi said the focus of the talks will be on maritime security ties in the Indo-Pacific, counter-terror cooperation and strengthening overall bilateral defence partnership.
"Their broad-ranging talks will cover, among others, industrial and technological partnership in line with the Make in India programme, operational defence cooperation, particularly maritime security in the Indo-Pacific, modalities of continuing the armed forces'' joint exercises in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, counter-terrorism cooperation as well as major regional and international strategic issues," the embassy said.
It said the talks will take forward the decision of French President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to deepen and expand the Indo-French partnership with strategic autonomy, and the defence of a multi-polar order as its cornerstones.
It will be Ms Parly's third visit to India since 2017 and one of her very first official trips since the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic, the embassy said.
The French Defence Minister will be accompanied by top executives from Dassault Aviation, Thales Group, Safran, and MBDA, representing the French defence majors that have been partnering with many Indian companies as part of the Rafale deal.
"At Ambala, the program will include ceremonial unveiling of the Rafale aircraft, a traditional 'Sarva Dharma Puja', air display by Rafale and Tejas aircraft as well as by 'Sarang Aerobatic Team''," the Defence Ministry said in a statement.
Afterwards, a traditional water cannon salute will be given to the Rafale aircraft, it said.
The Rafale jets, produced by French aerospace major Dassault Aviation, will be formally inducted into the IAF at the ceremony in Ambala air base on Thursday in presence of Mr Singh, Ms Parly and several top military officials.
During her visit to the national capital, Ms Parly will also pay floral tributes to India's valiant soldiers at the National War Memorial.
In a video message posted on Twitter, French ambassador Emmanuel Lenain talked about the strategic ties between the two countries and described the visit of Ms Parly as one of the important steps further boosting bilateral relationship.
The ties between India and France are on an upswing in the last few years with cooperation witnessing a major expansion in key areas.
The areas of defence and security, civil nuclear cooperation and trade and investment constitute the principal pillars of the Indo-French strategic partnership.
In addition, India and France are increasingly engaged in new areas of cooperation such as in the Indian Ocean region, climate change and sustainable growth and development.
The two countries share a close degree of convergence on a range of regional and global issues as well including ways to deal with terrorism and extremism.
Both India and France have important bilateral investment and trade cooperation. France has emerged as a major source of FDI in India with more than 1,000 French establishments operating in the country with a total turnover of around USD 20 billion.
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