Earlier this week, India, United Arab Emirate, and France agreed to expand trilateral cooperation between them in the areas of defence, energy, technology and health. The plans were finalised during a telephonic conversation between the three foreign ministers – Dr S Jaishankar, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and Catherine Colonna.
During the conversation, it was decided that events will be organised under the umbrella of the Indian Presidency of the G20 and the UAE’s hosting of COP-28 in 2023. What really is the geopolitical significance of this emerging trilateral? What brings them together?
Notably, all three countries have differences with the US over crucial foreign policy issues.
The French have been raw with Washington DC after AUKUS – a trilateral nuclear submarine pact between Australia, UK and US announced in September 2021. The agreement is the first instance of Washington DC and London sharing nuclear capabilities with another nation.
Paris was particularly furious with Australia because the latter cancelled an A$50 billion contract between them to manufacture conventional diesel electric submarines. They had, in December 2016, signed an agreement under which a French contractor, DCNS, would’ve built these submarines.
While France has its vision for the Indo-Pacific, its stance on China is different from the US. Paris is wary of Beijing’s increasing clout, but does not want to take an aggressive posture. While speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, the French finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, said:
“The United States wants to confront China. The European Union wants to engage China.”
“China cannot be out, China must be in. This is the difference of view we have between the U.S. and Europe,” Le Maire further said.
While speaking on the sidelines of the G20, French President, Emmanuel Macron, said that while the world wants to see two orders, “we need a single order.”
Between great powers
In recent years, ties between the UAE and the US have also faltered. Firstly, Washington has not been happy with the UAE’s growing cooperation with China, especially in the realm of technology. Both countries have been seeking to enhance cooperation in the realm of Artificial Intelligence.
Abu Dhabi has responded by saying that it will not be caught in the US-China tussle. While speaking at the ninth annual Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate, organised by the Emirates Policy Center, Anwar Gargash, Diplomatic Advisor to UAE President Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan, said:
The UAE did scrap a Chinese construction at Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa Port after the US alleged that this site would be used for military purposes by China. Significantly, in October 2022, a flying car built by Chinese electronic vehicle maker, Xpeng Inc, completed its first public test flight in Dubai (UAE).
Apart from the UAE’s ties with China, Washington DC has also warned the Emirati kingdom over its ties with Russia. US Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Brian E. Nelson, during his visit to the UAE last month, met with senior government officials from several ministries, during which he discussed “rooting out evasion of US sanctions, particularly on Russia and Iran”. He also discussed the possibility of US taking action against companies and individuals trying to evade sanctions.
While India-US ties have strengthened in recent years, New Delhi’s decision to purchase oil at cheaper prices from Russia, even after the imposition of US sanctions on Russia in the aftermath of the Russia-Ukraine war, has not gone down well with the US. Washington DC has said that it respects India’s decision to purchase oil, at discounted prices, from Russia. US treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, said last year December:
Both sides have, at the same time, stated that there needn’t be a convergence on all policy issues between both countries.
One must remember that India and the UAE are also part of the I2U2, which consists of the UAE and Israel and is also referred to as “Middle Eastern Quad.” India has also been closely working with France under the rubric of the Indo-Pacific.
The brand new India-France-UAE trilateral brings two things to sharp relief – the increasing importance of middle powers in the current geopolitical landscape, and how they have sought to follow a balanced foreign policy that privileges their own national interests.
Tridivesh Singh Maini is a Delhi-based political and policy commentator, currently affiliated with the OP Jindal Global University.