In yet another foreign policy push by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India will next year host a summit of 12 Pacific Island countries that are strategically important but have for long been neglected.
New Delhi, which has mostly concentrated on Indian Ocean countries, is looking at these island nations that dot the ocean east of Australia to expand economic and political influence, with Beijing stealing the march in broadening its clout in the vital Asia-Pacific region.
The PM wants the meeting to be held in a coastal state. “This is a region (Pacific) that is important to us... There is a lot we can do for these nations and there is a lot we can learn from them,” Modi blogged Friday, a day after returning home from a 10-day foreign visit.
He had on November 19 addressed a gathering of the leaders of Pacific Island nations, which are the centre of a vital maritime route rich in resources, in Fijian capital Suva.
The first Indian PM to visit Fiji in 31 years, Modi had announced a $5-million fund to promote small business and village enterprises in the country whose 37% of the population is of Indian origin. He also offered a $70 million line of credit for a power plant.
The countries, which have 12 votes in the UN, were getting their due importance in the foreign policy calculus, sources told HT. Both India and China have stepped up their courtship of these nations whose support will be vital in the climate-change talks as well. India’s choice of venue — a coastal town — is a hint in the direction. Experts say low-lying Pacific Islands would welcome assistance as well.
There are 14 countries in the Oceania group that include Australia and New Zealand. They range in size from the very large such as Australia to the very small like Palau with an area of just 177 square km.
“After the next year, the summit would be held at regular intervals, sources said.
“We have a long coastline, a glorious tradition as a maritime nation. With PM keen on giving environmental issues due importance, the summit next year will go a long way in firming up ties between India and Pacific Island nations,” said a source.
On Sunday, Chinese President Xi Jinping wrapped up his Fiji visit, announcing $11.4 million in aid. The race to win friends in the Pacific just got more interesting.