France on Wednesday called India its “foremost” strategic partner in Asia and said the upcoming visit of its defence minister to the country was aimed at strengthening defence ties with New Delhi, the country’s embassy said in a statement.

French Defence Minister Florence Parly will visit India on Thursday to participate in the induction ceremony of five Rafale jets into the Indian Air Force. She will hold talks with her Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.

The first batch of jets arrived in India on July 29. They are India’s first major acquisition of fighter planes in over two decades. The induction comes four years after the Centre signed a deal with France for a total of 36 units, as part of a Rs 59,000-crore agreement.

The talks will advance French President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to expand the Indo-French partnership.

“Their broad-ranging talks will cover, among others, industrial and technological partnership in line with the Make in India programme; operational defence cooperation, particularly maritime security in the Indo-Pacific; modalities of continuing the armed forces’ joint exercises in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic; counter-terrorism cooperation; as well as major regional and international strategic issues,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, India, France and Australia held its first-ever senior officials’ trilateral dialogue, which is aimed at boosting cooperation and strengthening multilateralism, the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.

The meeting was co-chaired by Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Francois Delattre, secretary general of French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, and Frances Adamson, secretary of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The countries discussed several topics during the meeting, including economic and geostrategic challenges and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, especially the regard to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The outcome-oriented meeting was held with the objective of building on the strong bilateral relations that the three countries share with each other and synergising their respective strengths to ensure a peaceful, secure, prosperous and rules-based Indo-Pacific Region,” the ministry said.

The three countries further decided to hold the dialogue on an annual basis.