PARIS: President Emmanuel Macron and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday vowed to "act jointly" in the Indo-Pacific region, as a row intensified with Australia and the US over a ditched submarine contract.
Macron's telephone talks with Modi were timed conspicuously as French anger appears undiminished after Australia pulled out of a submarine contract in favour of US submarines as part of an alliance with Washington and the UK.
US officials have said US President Joe Biden is seeking a phone call with Macron in the coming days to ease tensions but this has yet to materialise, with Macron taking the unprecedented step of recalling France's ambassadors to Australia and the United States.
The French presidency said both leaders agreed they would "act jointly in an open and inclusive Indo-Pacific area".
Macron assured Modi of France's continued "commitment to the strengthening of India's strategic autonomy, including its industry and technology base, as part of a close relationship based on trust and mutual respect".
The statement from Macron's office said France and India's shared approach would be aimed at promoting "regional stability and the rule of law, while ruling out any form of hegemony".
The new three-way strategic alliance, AUKUS, is widely seen as seeking to counter the rising power of China in the area.
Paris has in the last years sought to tighten ties with India: In 2016 the two sides signed a multi-billion dollar deal for 36 French Rafale fighter jets for New Delhi.
While the agreement is under investigation in France for kickback allegations, it is viewed as a commercial and diplomatic success for Paris.
Indian media have in recent days speculated that Australia's cancellation of the submarine deal could spark French-Indian talks about a submarines agreement of their own, possibly involving a transfer of technology.
During a September 2020 visit to New Delhi French Defence Minister Florence Parly discussed the idea that the Rafale deal could lead to sales of other weaponry, including submarines, according to a French defence ministry source.
"The Indian air force is completely satisfied with these planes, and that means were are well-placed for the future," the source said.
Possible coming arms sales, apart from the submarines, discussed in New Delhi included helicopters, ammunition and fighter jet turbines, the source said.