22nd May 2023,Mumbai: The 14 members of the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation were assured by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that India would be a dependable development partner for tiny island states.
In response to China’s efforts to expand its influence in the region, India on Monday unveiled an action plan covering health, renewable energy, and cyber-security to strengthen cooperation with Pacific island states. Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured the leaders of the region that New Delhi will stand by them as a friend.
In his speech to the third summit of the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, Modi unveiled the action plan. Modi was the first Indian prime minister to visit Papua New Guinea, when he took part in a summit with the representatives of 14 Pacific island states.
In his opening remarks, Modi discussed the difficulties that small island nations face, including the effects of climate change, health problems, and obstacles to the supply of goods like food, fuel, fertiliser, and medicines, and he noted that “Those whom we considered trustworthy, it turned out that they were not standing by our side in times of need.”
He said, “During these trying times, an old saying has proven true: ‘A friend in need is a friend indeed’.” He continued, “In Hindi, I’m delighted India supported its pacific island neighbours at this difficult time.” He also made mention of the vaccinations, medications, wheat, and sugar that India has sent to its allies.
Although he avoided naming any nations, this was clearly a reference to China, which last year raised concerns in the region by attempting to increase security cooperation with the Pacific island governments. Chinese authorities signed a security agreement with the Solomon Islands in April 2022, which Western officials claimed opened the door for a Chinese military presence there. One of the nations represented at the conference on Monday was Solomon Islands.
The co-host of the meeting, Prime Minister James Marape of Papua New Guinea, said Modi had “emerged as the leader of the Global South” and congratulated him for championing the concerns of developing nations during India’s G20 chairmanship. Marape urged the audience to be a third powerful voice against the Global North. “I want to take this moment…and ask you to offer a third big voice in the face of the Global North,” Marape added.
Marape encouraged Modi to address issues such as the high cost of food and energy at forums like the G20, as well as concerns of Pacific island states related to climate change, such as sea level rise and salinization of farms. “We are harmed by the role that powerful nations are playing in geopolitics and power struggles…We will support your leadership in international forums, I put to you as the head of the third world,” he stated.
Modi launched a 12-point action plan that, according to Indian authorities, aims to advance India’s cooperation with Pacific island nations while also achieving their objectives for development and solidifying a common vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific.
India would pay the full price to build a super-specialty cardiac hospital in Fiji in the healthcare sector. According to Modi, the new greenfield project will provide the area with a “lifeline” thanks to its qualified staff and cutting-edge infrastructure. India would also help all 14 Pacific island nations establish up dialysis facilities and provide marine ambulances.
India will organise a similar camp in Papua New Guinea after organising a “Jaipur Foot Camp” in Fiji in 2022 that gave free prosthetic limbs to more than 600 individuals. Two camps will be organised annually in the Pacific island nations starting in 2024.
In addition, Modi suggested establishing yoga studios and importing “Jan Aushadhi Centres,” which offer more than 1,800 generic medications in India at reasonable costs, to the Pacific islands.
A 24×7 helpline will be set up for Fiji, and there are plans for similar services in other nations. The Centre of Excellence for IT in Papua New Guinea will be developed into a Regional Information Technology and Cybersecurity Hub.
The Indian side also disclosed a project to supply machinery and technology to all Pacific island nations in order to enhance the SME (small and medium company) sector. At least one government building in each of these nations will be converted to solar power after a project to convert all of the head of state homes of the Pacific island governments to solar electricity. For the next five years, India will offer 1,000 ITEC training opportunities through the new “Sagar Amrut Scholarship” and provide desalination units to every Pacific island nation in order to address the issue of water scarcity.
Modi, who co-hosted the meeting with Prime Minister James Marape of Papua New Guinea, claimed that India has strived to draw attention to the Issues of poor nations through the Voice of Global South meeting and outreach events at the G7 Summit.
“Whether it’s digital technology or space technology, whether it’s health security or food security, or whatever else”, he said, “We are ready to share our capabilities and experiences with you without any hesitation.” He added, “We are with you in every way.” “We favour an Indo-Pacific that is free, open, and inclusive. All nations’ integrity and sovereignty are respected by us. In the UN Security Council, the voice of the Global South should be heard loud and clear. Our shared focus should be reforming international institutions to achieve this.”
The Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu are all members of the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation, which was established in 2014.
The forum has aided India’s interaction with the Pacific islands in many ways, according to foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra, since the two countries have the same interests for the region. According to him, there is a “overwhelming sense of goodwill” towards India and recognition of the nation’s significance in the area.
In a subliminal allusion to worries about the debt burden produced, Kwatra stated that the Pacific island governments view India as a “reliable partner with democratic values” and whose developmental model “doesn’t structurally burden their economies”