New Delhi: India and France Friday decided to increase their bilateral, regional and defence industrial cooperation as Defence Minister Rajnath Singh called on French firms to “either collaborate with Indian companies or simply produce in India”.

Rajnath made a strong pitch for greater industrial cooperation as his French counterpart, Florence Parly, said her country was “open and ready” to provide any additional Rafale fighter aircraft India needs.

Multiple issues concerning defence cooperation came up for discussion during the third Annual Defence Dialogue between India and France, held in New Delhi Friday. Parly, who is France’s minister of the armed forces, is in India on an official visit.

Government sources said the two ministers exchanged views on Pakistan and China. Parly said China was “getting more and more aggressive” in the Indo-Pacific region as well as the South China Sea.

The sources said both sides expressed concern over the situation in Afghanistan, amid reports of violence being unleashed in the wake of the Taliban takeover.

Speaking about the core issues under discussion, sources said that military cooperation, especially aerospace cooperation, was the focus.

They said that India highlighted the ‘Make in India’ initiative and said it doesn’t just mean manufacturing to fulfil India’s defence orders — it means producing for the world.

“French companies can either collaborate with Indian companies or simply produce in India,” sources said when asked about Singh’s message to the French.

French companies are eyeing the Indian Navy’s multi-billion-dollar Project 75 India (P75I), under which six conventional submarines are to be built, while also pursuing a larger order for fighter aircraft from the Indian Air Force.

Open And Ready For More Rafale

Speaking at a seminar organised by a think-tank ahead of the talks with Singh, Parly said France was open and ready to provide additional Rafale aircraft on India’s request.

“We are ready to answer any additional needs or requests that could be made by India. We know that an aircraft carrier will soon be delivered. Aircraft are needed. So we are open and ready to provide any other Rafale if this is India’s decision,” she said.

France has delivered 33 out of the 36 Rafale aircraft ordered in 2016 thus far, and the remaining three are set to arrive in India next month.

Emphasising French commitment to India, Parly said her country understands the necessity of Indian content more than any other country, and hence is fully committed to the ‘Make in India’ initiative, besides further integration of Indian manufacturers into its global supply chains.

She said that ‘Make in India’ has been a reality for French companies for several years, particularly for defence equipment such as submarines.

India and France are already building six Scorpène-class submarines in Mumbai, four of which have been commissioned by the Indian Navy.

China Growing More Aggressive

Discussing China, Parly said Beijing was also a partner for France in 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 (South) China Sea,” she said.

She said that for France and India, freedom of navigation in maritime law isn’t just a principle.

Parly said that France wants to preserve the Indo-Pacific as an open and inclusive area and that it must be free from any “coercion”.

“We see that sometimes there are attempts to close this (South) China Sea and we want to make sure that this freedom of navigation is respected,” she said.