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India aspires to champion the ‘Global South’ amidst the strife between the US and China in the Pacific region. The Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi, said during his visit to the Pacific region, that India has emerged as a reliable partner for the nations in this region. These relations between India and the Pacific nations emerge from historical connections. India’s undivided attention in the region provides an alternative to the Pacific countries, otherwise sandwiched between the US and China.
While India turns up as a partner to the United States in countering China, it is eagerly pursuing its aim to be the leader of the ‘Global South’. The historical links with Pacific nations and India’s fastest-growing economy elevate India to a level playing field compared to other influential countries.
Throughout the summit with Pacific leaders in Port Moresby on 22 May 2023, Narendra Modi reiterated his assurance to the member countries of the India-Pacific Islands Cooperation Association that India would be a reliable partner, in the context of a fast-evolving geopolitical scenario and the disruptions in the Global Supply Chain due to COVID-19 and climate change. Fourteen countries of the Pacific region participated in this summit: Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Niue, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
Though climate change, natural disasters, poverty, and various health-related issues are the main challenges in many of those islands, new problems are cropping up. There are new hurdles in the supply chains of food, fuel, fertilisers and pharmaceuticals, causing problems in daily life. Surprisingly, those we considered trustworthy and reliable turned their backs and refused to help in times of crisis. During the current trying period, India stood with these friendly countries.
The India-UNO Joint Development Partnership Fund was formed in 2017. It is designed to fund need-based and demand-related sustainable development projects in developing nations and LDCs, including small island states. PICs have been beneficiaries of this fund. Under the Act East Policy, India inaugurated the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation in 2014 to strengthen links with these nations via developmental aid, as part of South-South Cooperation.
The major feature of this year’s FIPIC Summit was the commitment of leaders from all 14 nations. This was a unique event, keeping in view the connectivity and other difficulties faced by these nations. The coming together of these countries underscored the importance and potential of strengthening ties with India.
The FIPIC Summit provided a signal opportunity for collaboration and dialogue between India and the Pacific Islands nations. It aimed to enhance mutual interactions, understanding and development in various sectors. Through discussions on trade, investment, climate change and sustainable development, the leaders worked towards building stronger partnerships for a brighter future.
During this summit, the Indian Prime Minister inaugurated an all-inclusive ‘Twelve Points’ drive to advance India’s partnerships with the Pacific island nations. These projects include solar connections for Government buildings, desalination units for drinking water, sea ambulances, dialysis units, 24×7 emergency helplines, Jan Aushadi Kendras, and Yoga centers. These projects are designed under the Small and Medium Enterprises scheme. Major development partnership projects include infrastructure development, predominantly stressing education, health, culture, etc. Community development projects include revamping libraries and school buildings, refurbishing colleges, extending IT infrastructure facilities to educational institutions, and setting up digital libraries.
Traditionally, India’s vision was restricted to the Indian Ocean Region, where India historically plays a central role. However, given China’s increasing expansionism in the Indo-Pacific Region, India decided to expand the scope of its foreign policy, keeping in view current geopolitical realities. Thus New Delhi stretched its outreach to Pacific Island nations.
Aside from these geopolitical considerations, increasing cooperation with the Pacific Island Countries will help India economically. The Pacific Ocean is the world’s largest, covering 46% of the world’s water surface and 33% of the total planetary area. This region has copious marine resources, contributing roughly 71% of the world’s oceanic fishing harvest. Although the PICs add up to a comparatively small land area, their exclusive economic zones (EEZ) span a significant portion of the ocean with enormous mineral and other hydrocarbon resource potential. The importance of energy resources for a developing nation like India is unsurpassed.
Also, to gain permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), India needs the support of as many of the member-sates as possible, regardless of size, wealth, or geopolitical importance. In the United Nations, PICs are a significant and influential voting group. PIC’s support will aid in protecting Indian interests in global climate talks. These are all powerful reasons to take India’s relationship with the PIC to the next level.
The Act East policy and rising maritime activities have revived hitherto non-operational ports on India’s eastern seaboard and they facilitate the multiplication of links with countries in the Indo-Pacific Region. For India, the strategic importance of FIPIC is high.
FIPIC enables India to counterbalance the influence of other major power players in this region. China has been increasing its engagement with the PIC through aid, investments, infrastructure development projects, and debt diplomacy. India’s active participation in FIPIC allows it to provide an alternative for the Pacific Island Countries, promoting a more balanced regional environment.
FIPIC facilitates trade relations and investment opportunities between India and the PIC, opening up new markets for Indian businesses.
The PICs are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including rising sea levels and natural disasters. India can collaborate with these countries to address such challenges and share its expertise in renewable energy use, climate resilience, and disaster management. Multi-lateral cooperation in these areas helps India build goodwill, enhance its global standing as a responsible actor, and contribute to the collective efforts to combat climate change.
Conclusion: The Pacific region has strategic importance, given its vast expanse and important commercial sea lanes. FIPIC provides a platform for India to strengthen its cooperation with the PIC in maritime domain awareness, surveillance, search and rescue operations, and combating transnational crimes. Such collaboration enhances regional security and stability, benefiting India and the PIC. Overall, FIPIC helps India to expand its diplomatic, economic, and strategic engagements with the Pacific Island Countries. By doing so, India can advance its national interests, foster regional stability, and contribute to the development and well-being of the Pacific Island nations.