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"It Is A Visit Of Substance"

The French ambassador to India, Claude Blanchesmaison, dispels notions that French president Jacques Chirac is coming on a mere symbolic visit.

"It Is A Visit Of Substance"
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How do you regard Chirac's forthcoming visit in view of the differences which have affected bilateral ties in the last few years?

He is the chief guest at Republic Day right in the middle of the 50th anniversary of Independence. It is a very symbolic occasion; that is the reason why there was no reason to postpone it. It is not a protocol visit. It is a visit of substance and on this occasion when we are celebrating the Independence of India—of course, it is a reference to our common values—you know that the French motto is Liberty, Equality and Fratenity. And if I am right, those three words are the beginning of the Constitution of India, which is probably not by chance.

There have been problems with France in the last few years, especially in commercial areas.

All that is over. The commercial disputes have been settled, but as you know you can sometimes have different views. Those disputes arose at a time when government agencies used to sign big contracts. But now things are run on business-to-business relations in market-oriented economies—that is what we want to promote. That is why the president will address a gathering of business people.

How do you rate France's interest in India now compared with its interest in China and ASEAN?

I think it was a question of timing. Probably, China had sent earlier signals of economic reforms which attracted business people from France as well as many other countries. It was the same way with the ASEAN countries. It is a good sign that leaders of big French companies are attracted to India and they are willing to come with the president—which shows genuine interest. And it is very important that this interest comes from the firms themselves.

With the economic meltdown in ASEAN countries, is India being viewed in a more positive light?

It is possible that investors will now have a better rating for India, that I don't know, ask them.

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