Pacific hub summit on Modi agenda
Tuesday , November 11 , 2014
New Delhi, Nov. 10: Palau, Niue, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Nauru and nine other Pacific island nations most Indians would be hard-pressed to point out on a world map have emerged key cogs in a bold diplomatic outreach by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to a region largely ignored by New Delhi so far.
Modi will hold a summit of 14 Pacific island nations during his single day trip to Suva, Fiji, on November 19, the first such gathering of the region’s leaders with an Indian Prime Minister, senior officials said here today.
“This will help us in establishing Fiji as a hub for us in the Pacific region,” Anil Wadhwa, secretary (east) in the ministry of external affairs, said on the eve of Modi’s 10-day overseas trip that will take him to Myanmar, Australia and Fiji.
Leaders of the Solomon Islands, Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Nauru, Palau, Niue, Kiribati, Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Micronesia and Fiji will attend the summit. These 14 nations, along with Australia and New Zealand, constitute a regional grouping — the Pacific Islands Forum — which other key powers, like the US and China, have been keen to join.
Modi’s meet with the Pacific Island leaders will follow a hectic schedule for the Prime Minister in Australia. He will begin by attending the G20 summit in Brisbane, before speaking to an Indian-Australian crowd in Sydney — an event modelled on his Madison Square Garden speech.
Next, he will fly to Canberra for bilateral talks with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott — who had visited India in September — before ending his Australia trip with a short visit to Melbourne, where Abbott will host a reception for the Indian Prime Minister at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Energy, regional security and trade will top Modi’s agenda in Australia, where India will set up a new culture centre. The two nations will also ink a pact on jointly combating narcotics smuggling. India and Australia already signed a nuclear deal during Abbott’s visit to New Delhi under which India can buy uranium from Australia — home to the world’s largest known reserves of the mineral.
But it is in Fiji that Modi will break truly new ground, officials argued.
“Look, our relations with Australia are on a smooth highway with little scope for problems,” an official involved with India’s relations with the Pacific region said. “It’s in his outreach to the smaller but strategically significant Pacific islands that the Prime Minister is trying something no one has before.”
Indira Gandhi had visited Fiji and Tonga as Prime Minister in 1981 — the only previous Indian Prime Minister to visit the Pacific islands.
But no Prime Minister — not even Indira — has gathered the leaders of the 14 nations that dot the southern Pacific to try and build a common diplomatic platform with them.
Traditionally, the islands were a part of the US-led strategic alliance that also includes Australia and New Zealand. But China has in the past decade emerged one of the biggest trade partners of the nations, and is increasing its influence at a time Beijing fears the US, Australia and Japan — along with a possible ally in India — are trying to encircle it in the Pacific.
Read story: The Telegraph
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