New Delhi: Adding a new dimension to its “Act East policy" of forging strong ties with South-east Asian countries, India on Friday offered a hand of partnership and friendship to 14 Pacific island countries, including Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa.
In his remarks to the second Forum of India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (Fipic), Prime Minister Narendra Modi pitched for stronger cooperation with the 14 islands spread across a region constituting about 20% of the globe.
To forge cooperation in the area of managing marine resources, Modi announced the setting up of an Institute for Sustainable Coastal and Ocean Research with a network of marine biology research stations.
He also proposed that India host an international conference on “Ocean Economy and Pacific Island Countries" in 2016, provide naval support for coastal surveillance and hydrographic surveys for a “better understanding of maritime zones and strengthen security of exclusive economic zones and goodwill visits by the Indian Navy to Pacific islands.
“The ships could also extend support in areas like healthcare through medical camps on the islands," he said.
In the area of space technology, India could help with its expertise in making an inventory of “land and water resources, fish zoning, forest resources management, coastal and ocean studies, weather and climate change and disaster management support," he said.
“We can assist in establishing a ‘Space Technology Applications Centre’ in any one of the Pacific island countries for the entire region and enhance our support for training in space applications, including through customized courses," he added.
Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa, Kiribati, Micronesia, Palau, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Nauru, Niue and Cook Islands constitute the 14 Pacific island states that are participating in the summit. The island nations are rich in fisheries, timber, palm oil, hardwood forests, coconut and cocoa. In terms of mineral resources, they are abundant in oil, copper, gold, natural gas, zinc, manganese and phosphates.
According to a Fijian diplomat based in New Delhi, India enjoys a considerable amount of goodwill among the Pacific island nations despite the fact that its strategic rival China has a significant presence in the region through aid and commercial activities.
In his speech, Modi announced that India would establish an information technology laboratory in each Pacific island country that will help people of the country access tele-medicine and tele-education.
In the area of trade, India can “support the development of micro, small and medium enterprises and will extend support for purchase of machinery for coconut processing and enhancing rice and sugarcane yields," Modi said. “We will also improve market access for Small Island Developing States. And we are also ready to be your investment partner in sectors of interest to you. We will focus on developing capacity for health services in your countries," he said.
Addressing the concerns of many of the 14 countries on the high cost of Indian generic drugs, Modi offered to set up a pharmaceuticals manufacturing plant and distribution centre in the Pacific island region and also offered a line of credit for the project.
Modi’s initiative to engage the Pacific island nations comes as China has outstripped Australia and New Zealand as the biggest donor in development partnership projects in the region in the past decade.
Modi visited Fiji in November after a visit to Australia for the Group of 20 summit.
“Hosting such a summit will help boost the profile of India which is looking to play the role of a leading power," the Fijian diplomat cited above said.