Monday, June 14, 2021

France’s Le Pen Speaks ‘India’s Language’, Calls China, Islamic Terror Biggest Security Threats

French far-right politician Marine Le Pen believes that global Islamic terrorism is the biggest threat to the world. She also said that it is not Russia, but the threat of rising China that needs to be addressed.

Interestingly, Le Pen’s foreign policy concerns seem to somewhat align with that of the current Indian government.

In an interview with Nikkei Asia, Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Rally which hopes to replace the incumbent President Emmanuel Macron in the elections next year, expressed her support for France’s anti-China stand.

Anti-China Sentiments

Though officially not a part of the QUAD (as France is not an Indo-Pacific power), France has conducted several joint military exercises with its members.

On May 11, France joined Japan, the US, and Australia in and around Japan’s Kyushu for a week-long air, land and sea exercise named Arc-21. China called these drills wasteful and not impactful.

India and France have a “special relationship,” according to Observer Research Foundation (ORF) Director Sunjoy Joshi. They have strategic and military ties which have led to India acquiring 14 multirole fighter aircraft Dassault Rafale.

While the India-France relationship blossomed, relations between France and China soured. Last year in June, Macron openly opposed new security laws in Hong Kong which infringed on the city’s autonomy.

As part of the European Union, France put sanctions on some Chinese officials in March for human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang.

Le Pen is not the only French politician to openly oppose China. Last week, in a 304-0 vote, the French Senate supported Taiwan’s bid to join the World Health Organization.

According to a poll published by the Pew Research Center in October last year, about 70% of the French population had an unfavorable view of China. In the presidential election of spring 2022, an anti-China view won’t be a divisive issue.

Russia & Islamic Terrorism

While there is multipartisan consensus on China, French politicians diverge on what France’s stand should be on the recent Russian military buildup near its border with Ukraine, setting off alarms of a possible invasion.

Macron stated last month that the international community must move away from a “naive approach” and draw “clear red lines” with Russia, which includes implementation of sanctions after any “unacceptable behavior.” He also said that “sanctions are not sufficient in itself, in themselves, but sanctions are part of the package.”

On the other hand, Le Pen is not a fan of international actions or sanctions. While she has toned down her opinion on the EU, she is skeptical about NATO, an alliance that was originally created to oppose Russia’s predecessor, the Soviet Union.

Criticizing the domination of the US within the organization, Le Pen has stated that “Russia is not a danger that justifies the mobilization of such a structure.”

Her approach towards Russia might work in India’s favor if she comes to power. Russia is one of the few topics over which India and the US have clashed. While India continues its neutrality by having good relations with both Russia and the US, the latter is wary of India’s military purchases from Russia.

Le Pen has also been a vocal critic of Islamic terrorism which she calls “unquestionably the global danger.” India has also been a target of many Islamic terror attacks and the government justified the removal of Article 370 in August 2019 and the subsequent lockdown in Kashmir as necessary actions to combat Islamic terrorism.

Le Pen’s Political Journey

Daughter of the party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine Le Pen joined the National Front in 1986. The National Front had been filled with racism, ranging from Holocaust denialism to blatant Islamophobia.

Called the “Devil of the Republic,” Jean-Marie Le Pen infamously said in 1987 that he doesn’t believe many people were killed by the Nazis in the gas chambers, a statement for which he was taken to court.

After becoming the leader of the party in 2011, Marine Le Pen has been trying to soften the party’s image. In 2015, she dismissed her father from the party after he repeated his view that the Holocaust was “a detail of history.”

Marine Le Pen has been revising the party’s image from that of a neo-Nazi to a respectable conservative position. She renamed the party as National Rally in June 2018, shedding its confrontational image and projecting it to be an organization willing ally to other right-wing parties.

She can be seen as taking advantage of the rising nationalism sweeping across most western countries as evident in the election of leaders such as Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Viktor Orbán, etc.

To expand her vote bank, she has eased the party’s approach towards gay rights, feminism, and the death penalty. Her methods seem to be effective. While she finished third in the 2012 presidential elections with 17.9% of the vote in the first round, she came in second with 33.9% in the second round in 2017.

In a Le Monde poll published last month, Le Pen scored 43% in comparison to Macron’s 57%. While Macron seems to be leading, he has also shifted his policies rightwards in face of rising competition and challenges.

After the beheading of a teacher for showing a cartoon of the Prophet in October last year, Macron intensified his crackdown on radical Islam by imposing controls on mosques and cultural groups. The move irked some of the Islamic countries, including Pakistan, where a radical Islamist group recently staged violent protests seeking the ouster of the French ambassador among other demands.

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