With United States President Joe Biden backing out, France’s President Emmanuel Macron will be the chief guest at the Indian Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi on January 26, 2024. Though a more pressing political engagement was cited for Biden’s backing out, Indo-US geopolitical issues are at the root of it.

To begin with, geopolitical factors are behind the invitation to Biden. Biden cancelling the visit, the subsequent extension of the invitation to Macron and the latter agreeing to come were also determined by geopolitical considerations.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was eager to have the ‘top-most’ world leader to grace the Republic Day parade in 2024. It is an election year, and Modi will be making a bid to secure a third straight term. Given his penchant for pomp and show, this was only to be expected.

Biden cancelled his visit because of US’ concerns over the Indian intelligence agencies’ alleged involvement in the killing of Sikh separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada, and the alleged Indian involvement in a plan to kill another Sikh separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannu in the US. The other reasons ostensibly include deterioration of democracy in India, and also India’s determination to pursue an independent foreign policy despite being a strategic partner of the US.

India’s continued close relations with Russia and its refusal to castigate Putin on the invasion of Ukraine had also cast a shadow over Indo-US relations.

With Biden backing out, India, with alacrity, approached France’s President Emmanuel Macron to fill in the void. The invitation was extended and accepted for geopolitical reasons.

In the recent past, India and France have forged good relations based on defence cooperation. India bought Rafale jet fighters from France and is trying to buy the naval version of the fighter now. France was pleased to sell Rafale fighters to India and is trying hard to sell its naval version now.

Though France is resolutely opposed to Russia on the Ukraine issue, it has not made a fuss about India’s buying oil from Russia and selling refined Russian crude to European countries. Unlike the US, and like India, France is not eager to go to war with China. Recently, it tried to get China’s cooperation to rein in Russia on the Ukraine issue.

And like India, France does not want QUAD to be based only on the premise of a war with China. Most importantly, the US let down France when it weaned away Australia from buying French nuclear submarines and formed the anti-China defence alliance AUKUS. The AUKUS unites Australia, UK and the US to form an exclusive Anglo-Saxon club without France.

On the growing India-France relationship, the Indian External Affairs Ministry said: “As Strategic Partners, India and France share a high degree of convergence on a range of regional and global issues. This year, we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the India-France Strategic Partnership.”

On July 14 this year, on Macron’s invite, Prime Minister Modi was Guest of Honour at the Bastille Day parade in Paris. Macron visited New Delhi during the G-20 Summit on September 9 and 10 when he had also travelled to Dhaka for a short visit.

Accepting the invite for the Republic Day from the Indian Prime Minister, Macron said in a social media post: “Thank you for your invitation, my dear friend Narendra Modi. India, on your Republic Day, I’ll be here to celebrate with you.”

Macron has energised French diplomacy towards the Indian Ocean and the South Asian region and has visited several countries in the region in the recent past including India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia.

The US and United Kingdom cannot side-step France in the Indo-Pacific region because it has 1.6 million citizens living in the Pacific region.

France does not want a military confrontation with China unlike the US. France and China established ties on January 27 1964, at a time when both Beijing and Paris found common ground on the US issue.

French President Charles de Gaulle's reluctance to follow Washington somewhat matched China’s attitude to the US. France was one of the first Western countries which shifted recognition from the Taiwan-based "Republic of China" ruled by the Nationalist Kuomintang to the Communist government in Beijing.

As ‘CNN’ had reported, Macron’s predecessors have been aggravating relations with Washington for more than fifty years, starting with President De Gaulle, who lambasted America for the Vietnam War, protested the US dollar’s global dominance, built France’s own nuclear weapons, and distanced France from NATO.

Macron called NATO “brain dead” in 2019. Heads exploded in the corridors of the Pentagon, CIA, and State Department when he did this.

Macron’s insistence on keeping a diplomatic channel open with Moscow after its invasion of Ukraine only made more steam blow from the ears of U.S. policy elites, as one American writer put it.

Macron’s call for European “strategic autonomy” by which he means that Europe needs the economic and military might to take on much more responsibility for its foreign policy, rankles ardent NATO backers and the US.

France is now spearheading a European approach to the Indo-Pacific that will deepen its relationship with India, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. These relationships can serve US regional interests as well, but the US may not see it that way.

However, the US subsequently regretted the nuclear submarine deal with Australia behind France’s back. President Biden admitted that his administration was “clumsy” in its handling of the deal that deprived France of billions in defence contracts from Australia.

The comment came when Biden and Macron met in Rome. “I was under the impression that France had been informed long before that the deal was not going through, honest to God,” Biden said sitting alongside Macron in the French Embassy to the Holy See at the Vatican.

Biden also called France “an extremely valued partner and a power in and of itself.”

“There’s too much we have done together, suffered together, celebrated together and valued together for anything to be able to break this up. We’re at one of those inflection points in world history. Things are changing. Pieces of the board are moving,” he added.

When Macron was asked if he was satisfied that the relations with the US had been repaired, he told reporters: “We clarified together what we had to clarify. Now what’s important is to be sure that such a situation will not be possible for our future.”

But strains still mark the Franco-US relationship.