When Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits the South Pacific island of Fiji on November 19, he will use the opportunity to hold a mini-summit with 13 other countries of the region.
Sources say all the 13 nations have agreed to attend, most of them at the prime ministerial level or “some one at the number two or three level”. Also attending will be Modi’s host Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama.
Modi will be the first Indian leader to have such a broad interaction with the leaders of the region.
New Delhi has historical links with Fiji as 42% of its population is of Indian origin. It has also had a long economic relationship with Nauru — formerly a major exporter of phosphates — and mineral-rich Papua New Guinea.
The main tangible diplomatic gains for India will be in areas like global climate change talks where the so-called “Durban coalition” of small islands and developed countries is cracking. This coalition had pressed emerging economies like India to accept binding carbon emission targets.
The South Pacific Islands are also one of the largest voting blocs in the United Nations. India had set up an online communications system for the islands to win
their support for the Indo-US nuclear deal several years ago.
The summit comes in the backdrop of reports of growing Chinese influence in the South Pacific. China has invested heavily in the infrastructure of islands like Tonga and its navy regularly shows its flag in the region, chipping away at the standing of traditional Western powers like the United States, France and Australia.
India is still a minor player in this area, but Modi’s outreach will not go unnoticed in Beijing.