During his speech on 02 May 2018 at the Garden Island Naval Base at Sydney, the French President, Emmanuel Macron, spelt out his country’s Indo-Pacific Strategy.  The strategy was based on seven pillars and aimed at placing France as an inclusive and stabilising mediating power.[1]  The main principles and objectives of the strategy were amplified during President Macron’s visits to India in March 2018, Nouméa in May 2018, Saint-Denis-de-La-Réunion in October 2019, and during the Ambassadors’ Conference on 27 August 2019.  In end-February 2022, a 67-page document titled ‘France’s Indo-Pacific Strategy’ and a nine page summary were made available online.[2]  The strategy document has updates up to 11 February 2022 and has thus seen changes since the 2018 speech, an aspect covered by the French President in the foreword, where he states that, “The French Indo‑Pacific strategy, whose principles and lines of action I set out in spring 2018, is based on the major ongoing strategic transformations observed in that space, and France’s role through its overseas departments and communities”.[3]  The 2022 strategy is based on four pillars as against the seven mentioned in 2018, and this change could have been brought about by the “major ongoing strategic transformations” mentioned by the French President.  A refreshing observation is the reference to the region as an “open and inclusive area[4].  Thus far, only India had been continuously using the term ‘inclusive’ in its reference to the Indo-Pacific, along with the universally used ‘free and open’ tag, and this convergence could imply a change in the overall European approach to the region.  While the strategy looks at a plethora of threats, challenges, risks, and opportunity, all under the rubric of ‘Holistic Maritime Security’, it focuses on three main aspects.  These aspects cover, first, the dynamics of the Indo-Pacific and the French presence and role; secondly, multilateralism, partnerships and the four identified pillars that drive French objectives and actions in the region; and thirdly, strengthening the presence of the European Union (EU) in the region. This article examines aspects that merit attention for the region.

The Pillars

The seven pillars espoused by President Macron in 2018 looked at:

  • A stronger involvement in settling regional crises, addressing terrorism, radicalization and organized crime, while ensuring the safety of main shipping routes.
  • Strengthening and increasing France’s partnership with China, including via the EU, through the framework of confident and constructive political dialogue with a focus on deepening economic and trade relations, and human exchanges.
  • Increasing relations with other strategic partners such as Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea, based on shared values and interests.
  • Playing a greater role in regional organisations, especially ASEAN-related platforms, to contribute to the development of multilateralism.
  • Providing greater contribution in relevant forums such as the Heads of Asian Coast Guard Agencies Meeting (HACGAM), the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), and the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP).
  • Ensuring greater presence in all regional and sub-regional forums, particularly the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), the Pacific Community (SPC), and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).
  • Enhancing the commitment to promote common goods such as climate change, environment and biodiversity, healthcare, education, digital technology, and high-quality infrastructure.

Several aspects that formed part of the seven original pillars were condensed and reframed as four pillars in the 2022 strategy document, with clearly defined objectives for each pillar, supported by examples of actions[5] to be taken.  The pillars and associated objectives are as tabulated:

Ser Pillar Objectives
(a) Pillar 1: Defence and Security



 (i) Ensuring and defending the integrity and sovereignty of France, the protection of its citizens, territories, and EEZ.

(ii) Contributing to the security of regional areas by promoting military and security cooperation.

(iii) Preserving, alongside its partners, access to common areas in a context of strategic competition and increasingly restrictive military environments.

(iv) Participating in the maintenance of strategic stability and military balances of power through international action based on multilateralism.

(v) Anticipating security risks brought about by climate change.

(b) Pillar 2: Economy, Connectivity, Research and Innovation



(i) Ensuring diversification of supply of strategic goods and reducing dependencies.

(ii) Promoting and enforcing existing international standards in order to establish a fair competitive framework.

(iii) Meeting needs in terms of connectivity and infrastructure.

(iv) Supporting efforts of French companies in the Indo‑Pacific region.

(v) Deepening partnerships in research and innovation.

(c) Pillar 3: Multilateralism and Rule of Law




(i) Promoting multilateralism in countries in the Indo‑Pacific region.

(ii) Contributing to the strengthening regional centres of cooperation.

(iii) Fostering strong involvement towards better visibility of the EU.

(iv) Recognising the central importance of the rule of law and the primacy of the Law of the Sea.

(v) Promoting the rule of law, particularly when it comes to international human rights law, environmental and social standards, rules of international trade and freedom of navigation, all while ensuring respect for the sovereignty of nations.

(d) Pillar 4: Climate Change, Biodiversity, Sustainable Management of Oceans (i) Increasing partner-involvement in the region in fighting climate change and in making progress on energy-transition.

(ii) Fostering the strengthening of actions for the preservation of biodiversity.

(iii) Developing partnerships for ocean protection.

(iv) Contributing to improving natural-disaster response.

(v) Enhancing the use of the skills of French territories, and regional cooperation on all of these issues.

Table 1: Pillars and Objectives of the 2022 French Indo-Pacific Strategy

Source: France’s Indo-Pacific Strategy 2022

Regional Dynamics and the Role of France

France’s ‘pivot’ to the ‘Indo-Pacific’ from the erstwhile ‘Asia-Pacific” occurred after 2016.  In the lexicon of the French establishment, ‘Asia-Pacific’ last found mention in the 2013 White Paper on Defence, and in the 2016 edition of France’s policy on defence and security document titled ‘France and Security in the Asia-Pacific’.  While the 2017 ‘Defence and National Security Strategic Review[6] mentions both terms, the 2018 edition of the defence and security policy document was aptly titled ‘France and Security in the Indo-Pacific’.  Although the 2017 Strategic Review looked at, “forging bonds that will help enhance maritime safety in the Indo-Pacific[7], the tenets highlighted in the white paper, the strategic review, and the 2018 defence and security policy, have been extensively reflected in the 2022 Indo-Pacific Strategy document, with a detailed approach of France to the region as a resident Indo-Pacific nation.

The French view of regional dynamics has been placed under three main aspects, which are underpinned by traditional and non-traditional threats: Balance of Power, Economics, and Climate Change and Sustainable Development.

Balance of Power

The strategy document identifies the following as the most challenging and impactful on the regional balance of power, and which are “making strategic calculations more complex[8].

  • US-China competition.
  • India-China enmity and competition.
  • Taiwan-China imbroglio.
  • Korean peninsula tensions.
  • Maritime delimitations in the South and East China Seas.

The strategy document further states that the resultant growing military imbalance over the last decade, along with the increasing number of non-traditional threats, has seen regional nations developing suitable capacities and capabilities.  This modernisation trend or ‘rearming’, combined with the advent of modern technologies, is “…. causing a general hardening of operational environments and a potential fracture in both regional and global balances of power[9].

The strategy document, while stating that “France is opposed to any attempted fait accompli, unilateral change in existing systems, or challenge to international law through the use of force[10], also voices a point of caution that “The risks of uncontrolled escalation are great in this region, which lacks crisis regulation mechanisms[11], especially from any breakdown of the existing international order.

With respect to the modernising of regional militaries, the following points merit attention[12]:

  • The US, Russia, France, China, and Germany, were the five largest arms-exporters in

2017-2021, accounting for 77% of all arms exports.

  • Asia and Oceania accounted for 43% of the global arms imports in 2017-2021.
  • French arms exports increased by 59% — from 6.4% of the global arms exports between 2012-2016 to 11% between 2017-2021. India was the largest recipient of these arms-exports between 2017-2021, accounting for 29% of the total exports.
  • In 2017-2021, in the Indo-Pacific region, France also exported arms to Australia, Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, amongst other nations.[13]

Thus, like most major arms-exporting nations, France finds itself addressing risks and challenges emanating from regional military modernisation fed by the global arms-export and import market, including its own exports.


Flowing from the above, the strategy document states that, “The Indo‑Pacific offers great opportunity for French companies, including those in the defence sector, as the region has become the largest global importer of military equipment[14].  Therefore, as per the strategy document, the arms market forms part of the recognised economic potential of the region, a potential that is further supported by the region’s ability to generate 40% of global wealth, and by 2040 could account for 50% of global GDP while the markets could account for 40% of global consumption.[15]  Further, the areas of infrastructure for transportation, energy, telecommunications, air connectivity between Asia and Europe, and the digital domain, have been identified as important for investment, research, and creating innovation partnerships.[16]

France’s economic relations with the Indo-Pacific region have been extensively covered in the strategy document, especially in chapter 2.4, ‘Economic Presence’.[17]  The drop in some indicated figures when excluding China merit specific attention (see Table 2):

Ser Subject Total Percentage Percentage

(Excluding China)

(a) Part of Global GDP 36 19
(b) French imports from the region 18 8.7
(c) French exports to the region 14 10
(d) France’s direct investments in the region as part of its 2019 global investments 8 6

Table 2: China in France’s Indo-Pacific Economic Calculus

Source: France’s Indo-Pacific Strategy 2022

The figures in Table 2 clearly indicate the importance of China in France’s economic calculus. France could seek other avenues to cover the Chinese percentage, as it seeks to ensure a diversification of supply of strategic goods and reducing dependencies, which are objectives associated with the second pillar (see Table 1).  The strategy document also pushes for a stronger EU presence in the region, an aspect drawn from the fact that “The Indo‑Pacific includes five of the EU’s strategic partners, and four of its ten main trade partners[18].  Further, China, in 2021, was the EU’s largest trading partner, the largest import partner, and the third-largest export partner.[19]  As France is the only EU nation with territories in the Indo-Pacific with a significant diaspora and military presence, the onus of balancing EU relations with China, especially economic ones, is, perhaps, considered a French remit.  This leadership role of France assumes significance as the strategy document has been released during France’s presidency of the Council of the EU (from 01 January to 30 June 2022).  This approach is also reflected in the various strategic documents mentioned earlier in this paper, which follow a ‘mellow’ approach on China as compared to the approach of other nations.

Climate Change and Sustainable Development

France’s territories in the Indo-Pacific, related maritime zones, and citizens/ diaspora are a natural lead to the interest in climate change and sustainable development, which are areas of growing concern in the region.  The document dedicates a full section to France’s overseas territories, which comprise a number of islands, and posits them at the heart of the strategy.  Therefore, it is natural that the document focuses, with concern, on the growing vulnerability of island territories, especially Small Island Developing States (SIDS), to climate change.[20]  There is also a global growing focus on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Hence, the strategy document has focussed on these two aspects, and accordingly placed addressal of climate change related security risks as an objective under Pillar One and the necessity of involving partners to address both, climate change and sustainable development, under Pillar Four (see Table 1).

There is abundant scope for India, France, and many other Indo-Pacific nations, to work together in areas of mutual concern.  The strong linkages between India and France were clearly brought out in the India-France Joint Statement adopted on 22 August 2019, which stated that “India and France agreed that oceans play an important role in combating climate change, preserving biodiversity, and development, and, acknowledging the link between environment and security, decided to enlarge the scope of their maritime cooperation to address these issues. For a sustainable use of marine resources, the Sides will work towards ocean governance, including through coordination in relevant international bodies. Blue Economy and coastal resilience are a common priority for India and France. In this regard, both Sides agreed to explore the potential for collaboration in marine science research for a better understanding of oceans, including the Indian Ocean.”[21]  One such partnership is the ‘The Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI)’, wherein France has taken on the responsibility of being the ‘lead’ for the Marine Resources Pillar, which is one of seven identified pillars.[22]  The IPOI initiative was espoused as an ‘open global initiative’  by India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, at the 2019 East Asia Summit held in Bangkok.[23]  Another initiative is the ‘International Solar Alliance’ (ISA), which, at the time of writing this article, has 105 signatories and 86 ratifications.  “The ISA was conceived as a joint effort by India and France to mobilise efforts against climate change through deployment of solar energy solutions.”[24]  The document cites ISA under ‘Partnership with India’ as an arrangement for renewable-energy resources.[25]

Multilateralism and Partnerships

France, like India, “…works for a multilateral international order that is based on the rule of law[26].  There is a detailed focus on strategic partnerships with ASEAN, India, and Japan, with a mention of strategic partnerships with Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam, and close cooperation on Indo-Pacific subjects with Malaysia, South Korea, and New Zealand.

Australia and AUKUS

With respect to Australia and AUKUS, the document states that the breaking of the ‘partnership of trust’ has led to France re-evaluating its strategic partnership with Australia and has resulted in the pursuit of bilateral cooperation on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the national interests of France and those of its regional partners.[27]  With respect to the US, the French strategy states that close relations with the US, which it recognises as an ally and major player in the Indo-Pacific, would be maintained, and France would strengthen coordination with the US, including on issues raised by the announcement of the AUKUS agreement.[28]  In this author’s analysis of the 2022 US Indo-Pacific Strategy, it had been stated that “Such a schism between major players and strategic partners could dilute the convergent approach to a stable and secure Indo-Pacific”.[29]  However, the presence and participation of France in the recently held Sea Power Conference 2022, conducted by the Royal Australian Navy from 10 to 12 May 2022 at Sydney, clearly indicates a rapprochement between the nations, with an understanding to keep working together for a stable and secure Indo-Pacific.


Although the document does not use the term ‘ASEAN Centrality’, it nevertheless recognises the essential role of ASEAN in the Indo-Pacific, and therefore identifies its relations with ASEAN and member nations as a priority for the French Indo-Pacific strategy.  This is in line with the pillar ‘to play a greater role in regional organisations’ espoused by President Macron in 2018, especially ASEAN-related platforms, and to contribute to the development of multilateralism.  The promotion of multilateralism has also been placed as an objective under the third pillar of the document titled, ‘Multilateralism and Rule of Law’ (See table 1).  The document highlights the intention of France to seek observer-status in two working groups of the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM Plus).  France (since 2019) is already an observer in the ASEANAPOL, an organisation that facilitates the meeting of the Chiefs of Police of ASEAN member nations.  Further, in 2019, France joined the Heads of Asian Coast Guards Agencies Meeting (HACGAM) as an observer.  It is also a member of the Western Pacific Naval Symposium (WPNS) and the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), a dialogue partner in the Pacific Island Forum (PIF)[30], a founding-member of the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC), and, in 2020, became a member of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) where it was earlier a dialogue-partner.  These linkages will facilitate France’s endeavours to promote multilateralism and the multiple strands, stated as ‘objectives’ under the four pillars, which emanate from it (see Table 1).  Should France become a member of the East Asia Summit (EAS), its multilateral approach would encompass the full Indo-Pacific.


France’s relations with China can be viewed as ‘non-antagonistic’.  One of the seven pillars espoused by President Macron in 2018 calls for ‘Strengthening and increasing partnership with China, including via the EU, through the framework of confident and constructive political dialogue with a focus on deepening economic and trade relations, and human exchanges.’  While the document lays stress on the economic angle, covered earlier in this paper, there is also mention of two South China Sea crossings per year, since 2014, by French naval ships and a nuclear submarine, as well as the  ‘Pégase’ and ‘Skyros’ missions of the French Air and Space Force, all in compliance with international law and freedom of navigation.[31]  China’s reaction to French naval forays in the South China Sea have not been as vociferous as those against the US and its other allies.  Although “In 2019, Beijing made the rare move of accusing France of making an illegal entry into Chinese waters, after its frigate Vendemiaire sailed through the Taiwan Strait”, it appears that China does not see France as an immediate threat as it does the US.[32]


Like most Western nations, France places Russia only in Europe, and views it through the lens of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the EU.  Therefore, it is not surprising that Russia finds no mention in the strategy document.  Russia, like China, strongly opposes the idea of the Indo-Pacific.  Hence, the absence of Russia in the document could leave an engagement-void that France may be hard-pressed to contend with, as some of its strategic partners, like India, have strong relations with Russia.  However, France could find it comparatively easy to engage Russia in the Indo-Pacific, as after Brexit it is the only EU nuclear power holding a permanent seat at the UN Security Council, and hence Paris has continued to maintain a robust dialogue with Russia, as it has with China, on global issues.[33]  While the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict and French sanctions on Russia could impact any dialogue, it is highly unlikely that Russia will focus on the Indo-Pacific while the conflict is ongoing.

European Strategy for the Indo-Pacific

The strategy document strongly advocates the presence and engagement of the EU in the region, based on the seven priorities mentioned in the Joint Communication that immediately followed the EU Strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.[34]  While the document terms the EU strategy as ‘ambitious’,[35] stating that “France aims for its departments and communities to be fully incorporated into the EU’s Indo‑Pacific strategy”, it also states that “The French territories should be bridgeheads for EU activities in the region”.[36]   It is evident that France would be the lynchpin of the EU’s engagement at least until such time as the EU establishes a physical presence and, therefore, an identity of its own, independent of the engagement of its member nations.  Physical presence would greatly aid the visibility of the EU, which presently is mainly evident in the form of trade and investment.  The aspect of presence will gain more relevance should the EU decide to extend the concept of Coordinated Maritime Presences (CMP) by marking out more Maritime Areas of Interest (MAsI) in the Indo-Pacific, in line with the MAI declared in the North-Western Indian Ocean (NWIO) region in February 2022.[37]  Although the concept of CMP looks at promoting the EU’s role as a global maritime-security provider in its vicinity and beyond, this will be dependent on the availability of naval assets of EU member-nations deployed under their national chain of command.  There also are many other maritime tasks that are planned to be undertaken under a decided framework.[38]  However, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, which is of considerable concern for the EU, could delay their execution.  Until such time as the concept is executed, France would, in all probability, remain the single point for all envisaged EU maritime engagements in the Indo-Pacific.


Unlike the documents issued by other European nations such as Germany (Policy Guidelines[39]) and The Netherlands (Guidelines[40]), France’s Indo-Pacific Strategy is more encompassing, specific, and provides clarity of intent.  This stems from the fact that France as an Indo-Pacific nation has a better understanding of the several sub-regions that comprise the Indo-Pacific, especially the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), which amplifies the aspects of presence and permanency.  The strategy provides ample space and opportunity for France to work with like-minded nations of the Indo-Pacific, including India.  While China does not contest France’s sovereignty over French territories in the region, it does not recognise France as a legitimate Indo-Pacific player.  Although it termed France’s Indo-Pacific Strategy as a part of the US anti-China stratagem, Beijing is mindful of the importance of its bilateral relations, wherein it considers France as a European nation.[41]  If France is to be the face of the EU in the Indo-Pacific, especially in the maritime domain, then it will need to be cautious in avoiding any divergences between its own national interests and those of the European Council, while continuously supporting the EU strategy.  This is an aspect that could impact the French and EU strategies, especially after France hands over the presidency of the Council of the EU on 30 June 2022.



About the Author:

Captain Sarabjeet S Parmar is a serving Indian Naval Officer and is presently a Senior Fellow at the National Maritime Foundation.  The views expressed are his own and do not reflect the policy of the Government of India or the Indian Navy.  He can be contacted at



[1] See At the heart of the French vision for a stable multipolar order available on

[2] France’s Indo-Pacific Strategy 2022, Republic of France, available at; and France’s Indo-Pacific Strategy 2022: Summary at

[3] France’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, p 3

[4] Ibid

[5] For more details see France’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, p 54-65

[6] Defence and National Security Strategic Review 2017, Republic of France, available at

[7] Ibid, p 62

[8] France’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, p 9, 10

[9] Ibid, p 9

[10] Ibid, p 10

[11] Ibid

[12] Pieter D Wezeman, Alexandra Kuimova and Siemon T Wezeman, Trends in International Arms Transfers, 2021, available at

[13] Details ascertained from exporter/ importer TICV tables created from SIPRI website

[14] France’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, p 11

[15] Ibid

[16] Ibid

[17] Ibid, p 128,29

[18] Ibid, p 68

[19] For details see ‘European Union, Trade in goods with China’, available at

[20] See Adelle Thomas et al, “Annual Review of Environment and Resources: Climate Change and Small Island Developing States”, available at

[21] India-France Roadmap on the Blue Economy and Ocean Governance, available at

[22] See para 2 of India-France-Australia Joint Statement on the occasion of the Trilateral Ministerial Dialogue (4 May 2021), available at

[23] See para 3 of Indo-Pacific Briefs by Ministry of External Affairs, India, available at

[24] For more details see ISA website available at

[25] France’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, p 40

[26] Ibid, p 10

[27] Ibid, p 41

[28] Ibid

[29] Captain Sarabjeet Singh Parmar, The US Indo-Pacific Strategy 2022: An Analysis, National Maritime Foundation, 03 May 2022, available at

[30] The French territories of New Caledonia and French Polynesia are PIF members

[31] France’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, p 55

[32] See Jacob Benjamin, French Naval Activity in the South China Sea on the Rise, The Geopolitics, 07 July 2021, available at; and Rachel Zhang, South China Sea: Why France is Flexing its Muscles in the Contested Waters, South China Morning Post, 28 February 2021, available at

[33] See Boris Toucas, Understanding the Implications of France’s Strategic Review on Defence and National Security, CSIS, 19 October 2017, available at

[34] France’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, p 70,71

[35] Ibid, p 2, 61

[36] Ibid, p 20

[37] Council Conclusions on the Implementation of the Coordinated Maritime Presences Concept in the North-Western Indian Ocean dated 21 February 2022, available at

[38] For more details see ibid

[39] Policy Guidelines for the Indo-Pacific, Federal Government of Germany, available at–1–data.pdf

[40] Indo-Pacific: Guidelines for strengthening Dutch and EU cooperation with partners in Asia, Government of the Netherlands, downloadable from

[41] Paco Milhiet, “French Polynesia and France’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, The Diplomat, 10 May 2022, available at



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