Indian Defence minister Rajnath Singh shakes hands with French Defence Minister Florence Parly during the ceremony marking the delivery of the first of 36 Rafale fighter jets destined for India, on October 8, 2019 at Dassault Aviation plant in Merignac. (Photo by GEORGES GOBET / AFP) (Photo by GEORGES GOBET/AFP via Getty Images)

FRANCE has condoled the death of 20 Indian soldiers during a clash with Chinese troops, and offered to boost bilateral strategic cooperation.

French defence minister Florence Parly — in a letter to her Indian counterpart, Rajnath Singh — assured New Delhi “steadfast and friendly support” amid “these difficult circumstances”.

Recalling that India is France’s strategic partner in the region, she reiterated her country’s deep solidarity with the country and expressed her readiness to visit India to follow up on bilateral talks to deepen defence ties, French diplomatic sources said.

“This [the Galwan Valley clash] was a hard blow against the soldiers, their families, and the nation. In these difficult circumstances, I wish to express my steadfast and friendly support, along with that of the French armed forces,” they quoted her as saying.

The Indian and Chinese armies remained locked in a bitter standoff in multiple locations in the Himalayan region of Ladakh.

Military tension escalated manifold after 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a violent clash in Galwan Valley on June 15. The Chinese side, too,  suffered casualties, but maintained silence on details.

Defence and strategic ties between India and France have been on an upswing over the past few years.

India is set to receive the first batch of six Rafale fighter jets from France on July 27, after the delivery was expedited based on a “special request” from the Indian Air Force.

The jets will significantly boost the combat capability of the Indian Air Force.

India had signed an inter-governmental agreement with France in September 2016 for procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets at a cost of about £6.6 billion.

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