INDIA AND SOUTH PACIFIC: : KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM PM MODI’S VISIT
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Meta Description: Papua New Guinea’s PM touching PM Modi’s feet have been seen as a reflection of India’s global status, and the significance of its engagement with Pacific Island Countries and the FIPIC.
- Until recently, the South Pacific was considered to be under US influence, managed under the Australia, New Zealand, US (ANZUS) trilateral military alliance.
- But with China’s growing influence in the region, and the increasing focus on the Indo-Pacific, India’s engagement strategy in the region has evolved.
Overview of India’s relations with countries in the region
- India’s interaction with the PICs has traditionally focussed on its engagement with Fiji and PNG, mainly due to the presence of a large diaspora — about 37% of Fiji’s population is of Indian origin, and about 3,000 Indians live in PNG.
- Beginning 1879, Indian indentured labour was transported to Fiji to work on sugarcane plantations.
- From 1948 until Fiji’s independence in 1970, India had a Commissioner to look after the interests of people of Indian origin.
- India-Fiji relations have grown steadily during the past few years due to several ongoing initiatives and bilateral visits from both sides.
- The Indian High Commission in PNG opened in 1996. PNG opened its resident diplomatic mission in New Delhi in 2006.
- The engagement with the 14 PICs is part of India’s Act East Policy.
- A major part of the engagement is through development assistance under South-South Cooperation, mainly in the form of capacity building (training, scholarships, grant-in-aid and loan assistance) and community development projects.
- An initiative launched under the Act East Policy for the PICs is the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC).
- All PICs are vulnerable to climate change and rising sea levels. Initiatives like International Solar Alliance and Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure complement the relationship with PICs.
- As part of a project for solar electrification of 2,800 houses in 14 PICs, 70 women solar engineers — called Solar Mamas — have been trained.
- India has been providing Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) to the PICs from time to time.
- It assisted various PICs with the supply of COVID vaccines and medical supplies during the pandemic.
Chinese presence in the region
- China has made forays into the Pacific Islands through economic incentives, and has sought to boost its security relationship with the island states.
- China’s increasing presence in the region has unnerved the US and has caused alarm in Australia and New Zealand.
- China’s trade volume with 10 PICs — the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Tonga, PNG, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Niue, and Micronesia — increased more than 30 times from 1992 to 2021.
- China is the biggest trading partner of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) after Australia and New Zealand.
Significance of PM’s visit
- It showed the gains India has made incrementally as a development partner to this strategic geography and managed to establish a reassuring presence in the region in a way that chequebook diplomacy cannot achieve.
- The overwhelming welcome for PM Modi by the PIC leaders and Marape’s reposing of faith in India as the voice of the Global South is significant given that India’s G20 presidency is committed to being a bridge builder in a polarised global order.
- It underscores how India is increasingly carving its space as an alternative to countries who don’t want to get caught in the crossfire of binary choices in the Indo-Pacific.
- India can become a key player in the Blue Pacific 2050 strategy along with its partners like Australia to boost sustainable growth in the region, and help Southern Pacific countries meet their developmental goals and tackle climate change.
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Q) India can become a key player in the Blue Pacific 2050 strategy along with its partners like Australia to boost sustainable growth in the south pacific region, and help Southern Pacific countries meet their developmental goals and tackle climate change. Discuss. (250 words)