India-France sign ‘White Shipping Agreement’ to share Maritime Intelligence in IOR to check China
India and France has signed White Shipping agreement to enable information sharing on maritime traffic and maritime domain awareness in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) amid China’s expanding naval forays in the area where India wants to establish itself as the net security provider.
The agreement was signed on January 19 here when the two sides held their second dialogue on maritime cooperation for the Indian Ocean Region.
The White Shipping Agreement will be implemented over the next few months enabling Navies of India and France to coordinate their roles in stabilising Indo-Pacific region, persons familiar with the developments indicated. It will enhance Indo-French maritime security cooperation in the region.
The Indo-French dialogue also emphasised on Freedom of Navigation in IOR and Pacific in the backdrop of China’s territorial claims and dominance in the South China Sea region.
Delhi and Paris have been coordinating their naval movements and surveillance in the Indian Ocean Region over the last couple of years. France retains interests and assets with territories like Reunion Islands in the IOR. It is no secret that China’s expanding interests in IOR with presence in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Maldives has been closely followed by Delhi which has key security and trade interests in the IOR as the biggest country in the region.
It may be recalled that India and France firmed up cooperation on sharing of radars in the Indian Ocean during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Paris in 2015. While India is setting up a grid of coastal surveillance radars in the IOR that will enable it to monitor, among other things, the increasing Chinese presence in the area, France has interest in sharing data from surveillance systems on its Indian Ocean territories.
French territories in the region include Mayotte, besides military bases in UAE and Djibouti.
India’s coastal surveillance radars have been set up in Sri Lanka (6), Mauritius (8) and Seychelles (1) as well as in Maldives. Beijing has been seeking to expand its footprints in the IOR as part of the grand Maritime Silk Route under overarching Belt & Road Initiative, according to experts who have followed these developments closely. Besides Beijing wants to safeguard the Sea Lanes of Communication through which its trade passes amid growing incidents of piracy along Africa’s Eastern coast. Seychelles has been viewed by China as a possible replenishment port for navy ships taking part in anti-piracy operations in the region.
The Indian Navy has been following the Chinese anti-piracy movements in the region with some concern, given the fact that Beijing has steadily increased the size and frequency of its deployments. The recent trend of China sending nuclear attack submarines for anti-piracy missions – akin to using an elephant gun to hunt mice – has left little doubt that the presence is here to stay and surveillance is key to India’s strategic interests.