New Delhi: France and Australia have decided to ramp up security and strategic cooperation with India in the Indo-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region (IOR) in what is being viewed as a big and effective strategy of the three nations to deal with challenges resulting from China’s aggressive agenda. On the sidelines of the G-20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Bali, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and his counterpart from France, Catherina Colonna held bilateral talks during which this issue came up, The Sunday Guardian has learnt from top diplomatic sources who were present in the Indonesian city.

“Jaishankar and the French Foreign Minister focused on various aspects of bilateral ties as well as ways to deal with major global challenges in the face of geopolitical turmoil,” sources said. The global challenges that the two ministers discussed also included China’s challenge in the Indo-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region, sources added.

Top sources told The Sunday Guardian that the ministers stressed on the need to enhance cooperation in the security and strategic fields to tackle whatever challenges are there in the regions. With Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and French President Emmanuel Macron having given their nod already for stepping up cooperation with India in IOR and Indo-Pacific in revival of the trilateral, the foreign ministers discussed the ways on how to go about it, sources said.

There will be more high-level meetings at the level of defence and foreign policy officials in the near future to finalise the modalities about how to increase joint presence in the Indo-Pacific, sources said. Macron and Albanese have agreed to mend ties and leave behind the differences over AUKUS in what works to the advantage of India vis-à-vis the growing challenges from China in the Indo-Pacific.

Needless to say, both France and Australia are the key partners of India in the Indo-Pacific region. “If the France, Australia and India trilateral is revived, which is a possibility now, it will be of a great help to India in IOR amid the worries over China’s aggressive agenda,” officials say. The Australian PM’s recent visit to Paris paved the way for it. The EAM and his French counterpart also discussed it to clear the ways, added the officials. In fact, the trilateral had been put on the backburner after Australia’s decision to scrap the submarine deal and launch AUKUS to acquire nuclear-powered submarines with US and UK assistance. Paris was said to be upset over the development. India was also closely watching the development when Albanese visited France to meet Macron. The Australian Prime Minister had welcomed what he called was a “new start” in relations with France.

“Australia and France will shape a new defence relationship and strengthen our collaboration and exchange on shared security interests, including through operational engagement and intelligence sharing.” This was said in the joint statement issued following talks between the leaders of Australia and France. “We are determined to be active in regional fora and to enhance security cooperation with Pacific countries, in particular on maritime surveillance with regional agencies, and in the Indian Ocean, including in partnership with India.”

This was a welcome development for India, which was waiting for the two countries to come forward and join hands with New Delhi to enhance cooperation in the Indian Ocean. Sources said that the French FM shared with the EAM the views expressed in the joint statement.

France and Australia will support each other’s deployments and conduct more joint maritime activities in support of the rules-based global order, in what signals their intense strategic cooperation with India in the ocean region.

According to sources, the stage is now set for India to restart its trilateral dialogue with the two nations. The focus will be on maritime security in the Indian Ocean Region, where China has been flexing its muscles violating all international laws and ignoring the protocols of the global order.

S. Jaishankar and his counterparts from Australia and France held the first trilateral dialogue in May 2012. Then, they had committed to working together to achieve a free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific. But the second round of talks among the ministers could not take place so far as the relations between Australia and France plummeted. With the ties between Canberra and Paris back on track, India has a reason to be happy as the trilateral will be functional again and the joint strategic cooperation among the three countries will be good for New Delhi’s plan to counter China.

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