France backs India amid China’s growing maritime aggression

New Delhi, Dec 17 (EFE).- French Defense Minister Florence Parly Friday said her country stood with India and the other nations in the Indo-Pacific region to ensure freedom of navigation was respected amid China “getting more and more aggressive.”

On an official visit to India, Parly met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defense Minister Rajnath Singh for talks on deepening strategic partnership between the two countries given the maritime tension in the region.

“China is also a partner for trade and commerce but we see as well that China is getting more and more aggressive in the region. And it is even more specific when it comes to the China Sea,” Parly said, addressing a virtual summit on India-France ties.

“France and, if I may, India share the same views on something which is key. I mean the international maritime law, the freedom of navigation,” she said.

The French minister noted that the freedom of navigation was not only a principal concept but it a “set of rules we comply with.”

“It is also something which puts at risk the freedom (of) navigation and trade. And most of the goods use these maritime lanes (of the South China Sea) and these maritime lanes should remain free.”

She said India and France share the idea to “preserve the Indo-Pacific as an open and inclusive area.”

“It must be free from any coercion and based on compliance with international law and multilateralism. The Indo-Pacific is not an artificial juxtaposition of the Indian and Pacific oceans.

“It should be understood as a wide geographical continuum facing common challenges. So we have developed an exceptional partnership and it is more necessary than ever to reinforce it.”

China’s claims over the South China Sea, through which a third of the world’s maritime shipping passes and is rich in oil and natural gas deposits and fisheries, clash with those of other countries including, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, which claim some parts of the area.

Many western countries, led by the United States, have urged China to change its behavior and ensure freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

The alleged Chinese military buildup in the region has threatened the movement of more than $3 trillion worth of commerce every year.

The French minister spoke at length about the respect for international maritime law.

“Everyone knows that some of the warterways are crucial for the economic security of a number of states in the region. They are actually essential for the economic security of many states outside the region as well. No one should consider themselves as entitled to bypass international maritime law,” she said.

“Disputes should be resolved by legal means and negotiations, not by fait accompli. And freedom of navigation must be upheld. We need to preserve access to global commerce.”

Parly held the third annual defense dialog with her Indian counterpart, during which they spoke about a “wide range of bilateral, regional, defense and defense industrial cooperation issues,” an Indian defense ministry statement said.

India and France held in November the annual bilateral military exercise Shakti on counter-terrorism operations.

The ministers acknowledged their convergences on strategic and defense issues.

“They expressed commitment to work together to enhance cooperation in bilateral, regional and multilateral forums.”

France is the current chair of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium and shall take over the Presidency of the European Union from Jan.1, 2022.

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