PM’s visit emphasizes crucial importance of Indo-Pacific for India

New Delhi : When Prime Minister Narendra Modi landed in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea on Sunday, May 21, he became the first Indian prime minister ever to visit that Pacific Island nation. While his visit is primarily to mark India’s interest in the region, it further reinforces the increasing strategic importance for India of the Indo- Pacific and the need to try and balance the strong influence China has forged in the region.

India is aware that it cannot emulate the kind of spending that China can in order to cement its influence in the region. Instead, much like in Africa, India will offer its expertise in the kind of low cost, relatively low tech products which have proved so beneficial in countries across the African content. The focus will be on India’s particular strengths, in pharmaceuticals, telemedicine,
telemetry, sustainable environmental and agricultural best practices and banking and financial services, which are transparent and effectively reach millions of consumers.

India has helped organize and co-chaired the third Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation, FIPIC Summit on Monday, which leaders from all 14 PIC member countries (Cook Islands, Fiji, Republic of Kiribati, Republic of Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Niue, Republic of Nauru, Republic of Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu
and Vanuatu) attended. Additionally, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Chris Hipkins, also travelled to Port Moresby to meet PM Modi.

FIPIC was launched by PM Modi in 2014, when he visited Fiji, as an additional effort to mark India’s presence as a partner to these island nations in the vital Indo-Pacific region. While only one FIPIC meeting was held thereafter, in Jaipur in 2015, this meeting in Port Moresby signals a renewed commitment to expanding its presence in this region.

Meanwhile, after US President Jo Biden called off his visit to PNG, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken travelled to Port Moresby and signed a defence cooperation agreement with PNG on Monday, expanding the Pacific island nation’s capabilities and make it easier for the U.S. military to train with its forces. Coming immediately after the QUAD summit in Hiroshima,
Blinken’s visit further affirms the more pro-active role all the four QUAD countries will play in the region to try to reduce the Chinese influence there and maintain the freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific, so vital to global commerce.

Blinken’s visit and his meeting with the 14 Pacific island leaders came soon after the PM Modi pledged India’s support for and partnership with the Pacific Islands at the third FIPIC summit, co-hosted by him and PNG Premier James Marape. The bilateral meeting between PM Modi and PM Marape, during which India extended a credit line of US$100 million, is expected to considerably enlarge bilateral cooperation, with India offering its expertise.

Earlier, PM Modi travelled to Hiroshima, Japan, on May 19 for the first leg of his three-nation Indo-Pacific tour to participate in the G7 summit outreach, for which India has been invited as a guest country. This is the 10 th time India attended the summit of the group of seven of the world’s most industrialised nations, as an outreach partner country. He will round off his visit with a visit to Australia, to boost the bilateral economic, defence and strategic partnership.

According to Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra, “India’s regular participation at the G7 summits clearly points to increasing recognition that India should be a part of any serious effort to resolve global challenges, including those of peace, security, development, and environment preservation. This is even more salient in the context of our ongoing presidency of the G20 and our particular efforts to prioritize the interest and concerns of our fellow country members of the global South,” he explained.

The G7 summit this year chose several key priorities as summit preferences, in particular, regarding their outreach with the invited guest countries, including Australia and Brazil, besides India. Among the core issues up for discussion were nuclear disarmament; economic resilience and economic security; regional issues; climate and energy; and food, health and development. Other priorities such as digitization and science and technology were also foregrounded in the various sessions during the G7 summit. India’s participation in the Hiroshima G-7 summit was structured around three formal sessions; one, related to food health, development, and gender equality; second, on climate, energy and environment; and the third, ‘Towards peaceful, stable and prosperous world’.

Significantly, PM Modi met Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky in Hiroshima and offered India’s good offices to end the war while appearing to be critical of Russia, categorically stating that territorial sovereignty and integrity must be respected and not be infringed. – INDIA NEWS STREAM

The writer is a senior journalist. The views expressed in the article are her own.

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