Feature: French president's visit to India commercial, but not completely so

2013-02-14 11:22:51 GMT2013-02-14 19:22:51(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

by Wu Qiang

NEW DELHI, Feb. 14 (Xinhua) -- French President Francois Hollande's two-day state visit to India is widely regarded as commercial, but not completely so.

Hollande landed in New Delhi Thursday morning and met with Indian President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, before holding a joint press conference at the Hyderabad House in central New Delhi with Singh.

Most attention is focused on the gigantic 10 billion U.S. dollars arms deal between India and France signed one year ago, in which French aviation group Dassault will sell more than 100 Rafale fighter jets to India.

The deal is so big that so far it is not formally signed yet. France calls it "arms sale of the century," while India calls it " mother of all arms purchase."

While the governments are not supposed to be involved in the deal, which is taken care of by private businessmen and arms dealers, the visit by the French president was widely regarded as aimed at ensuring the deal would not slip away from Paris's hand.

One day before the arrival of Hollande, news broke out that an Italian arms group CEO has been arrested for corruption in an arms deal with India two years ago in which 12 VVIP choppers were sold to India, eight of them having been delivered so far.

France grabbed the deal amid fierce competition from the United States, UK and Russia. A former U.S. ambassador to India even resigned after failing to secure a deal for the U.S. arms sellers.

However, some analysts also say that France, now hoping to revive its grandeur despite the eurozone crisis, would like to renew its traditional ties with India in the present global geopolitics.

India, the second fastest growing economy of the world, could be a good partner of France, which remains a power of global significance, said one analyst.

All French leaders since President Jacques Chirac have visited India over the past 15 years.

France has its influence felt in India's southern union territory of Pondicherry facing the Bay of Bengal, where a miniature France is alive with French wine, food, public school, hotels, cathedral, a French consulate, a French park, a French canal and even a French military cemetery. It is still one of the most frequented tourist sites of India and is called Riveria of the East.

A successful movie, based on the book of Yann Martel "The Life of P", is partly set in that beautiful French-Indian city.

In international affairs, India and France can even cooperate in economic and political affairs in Africa, where France is intervening in Mali to fight terrorism and India is active in the Indian Ocean fighting pirates from Somalia.

Moreover, the situation in Afghanistan could also be common interest. France is pulling out all its troops from Afghanistan, while India is worried about a post-NATO Afghanistan. India has also expressed satisfaction with the progress in our defense cooperation, which is poised to reach a qualitatively new level, while India and France also agreed to further strengthen cooperation in counter-terrorism and intelligence sharing.

Indian Prime Minister Singh said France was one of India's most valued strategic partners and has given "strong and steadfast support" during difficult moments.

"We reviewed progress on the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project (in Maharashtra) and reiterated our commitment to its early implementation," he said.

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