Eye on UNSC seat, India woos Pacific islands with investments

​India on Friday committed to support the Pacific Island countries' aspirations to the UN Security Council, and invest in the ocean economy these island countries represent.

Hosting the first regional summit of the NDA government, India was stitching a positive relationship with the Pacific Islands even as the India-Pakistan NSA talks were coming apart. Anil Wadhwa, Secretary East in MEA, told journalists there was widespread support by the Pacific Islands for India's candidature in the UNSC.

The summit itself has been a unique event, attended by leaders of all 14 Pacific Island countries, including Fiji, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. The leaders who were officially welcomed by the President at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on Thursday, toured the Taj Mahal before going to the summit meeting in picturesque Jaipur.

Modi said, “India will support the realization of your vision of Pacific regionalism. It is a shining example of cooperative regionalism that should inspire others around the world,” he said.

Climate change featured prominently at the summit, with the PM explaining India's approach through mitigation measures and increase in renewable energy targets.

Modi offered to help the Pacific Islands with their hydrography and coastal surveillance, by engaging the Indian Navy. It would help them have "a better understanding of their maritime zone and strengthen security of their EEZs".

He offered space assistance – “Space assets and technology can help us in inventory of land and water resources; fish zoning; forest resources management; coastal and ocean studies; weather and climate change; and, disaster management support.”

 India will provide assistance to help with natural disasters in these countries.

A FIPIC trade office will be set up in New Delhi, he said, as well as set up pharmaceuticals manufacturing units in these countries. PM also announced that India would give free visas to these countries, which is a special offer.

Addressing the summit, Modi said, “We are at the cusp of a new era, where oceans, like space, will become important drivers of our economies. Their sustainable use can bring prosperity; and, give us clean energy, new medicines and food security beyond just fisheries.

“Ocean is critical to India's future, too. That is why, in the past year, I have focused a lot on ocean economy, both in India and international engagement.”

He also announced a plan to open a space and satellite monitoring station on one of the Fiji islands, which will help India track its satellites independently over the Pacific. The summit also served an important purpose. India expanded its outlook of the Pacific Islands beyond Fiji, which has been a traditional relationship based on history and a diaspora connect. When relations with Fiji turned rocky, India's focus shifted from the islands. The government promised a new outlook to these islands.

India's attention to these islands comes at a time when the Pacific Islands, dominated by Australia and New Zealand on the one hand and a growing interest from China on the other, is looking around to balance these countries. Modi said, “The world may see you as small islands with modest populations. I see you as large ocean states with vast potential. Some of you have Exclusive Economic Zones that are larger than the landmass and Exclusive Economic Zone of India taken together.” Even though distance gets in the way, many officials from these islands believe India has a positive role to play.

In his closing remarks, Modi said India would establish an Institute for Sustainable Coastal and Ocean Research in the region and a network of marine biology research stations in various island nations. Pacific Island nations have expressed interest in India's frugal innovation and capacity building. Officials from these countries have made the point to the Indian government that with modest investments, India can rack up a lot of goodwill.