New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled several development initiatives from a cardiology hospital to yoga centres at the third summit with 14 Pacific island nations in Papua New Guinea on Monday, May 22.
The Indian PM is on a three-nation foreign trip which began with participation in the G7 summit in Hiroshima. After the second leg in PNG, Modi will end his journey in Australia.
During a day-long visit to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea prime minister James Marape and Modi co-chaired the third meeting of the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC). The first two editions were held in Fiji in 2015, followed by Jaipur in 2016.
Three years later, the leaders of the Pacific Island nations met with the Indian PM on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York and decided to hold the next meeting in the region.
On Monday, Papua New Guinea hosted the third summit, as the capital witnessed a diplomatic traffic jam with leaders from the region and outside trooping in as part of a concerted effort to stem the influence of China in the Pacific region.
The US and PNG signed a new defence agreement on Monday, with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken flying in to ink the deal that was to have been the centrepiece of President Joe Biden’s cancelled trip.
The West had re-focused on the Pacific after China announced last year that it had signed a security agreement with the Solomon Islands, triggering fears of a greater Chinese footprint in the South Pacific. This followed years of Chinese economic aid to the island nations as it courted closer ties with the strategically located island nations.
India has also been attempting to improve its influence in its region, even though it has been constrained by resources.
At the third FIPIC, Modi listed 12 new development initiatives ranging from a fully-sponsored cardiology hospital in Fiji to dialysis units across all 14 island nations.
“To boost healthcare in the Pacific region, we have decided to establish a super-speciality cardiology hospital in Fiji. This hospital will be equipped with trained staff, modern facilities, and infrastructure, and it will serve as a lifeline for the entire region,” Modi said.
In addition, the prime minister revealed plans to supply sea ambulances to all 14 Pacific island countries. He also expressed his intent to establish a 24×7 emergency helpline for Fiji’s citizens and extend support to set up similar facilities in all Pacific Island Countries (PIC).
He proposed the establishment of Jan Aushadhi Centres and yoga centres in the region as well. Lastly, Modi announced India’s decision to organise a Jaipur foot camp in Papua New Guinea this year, followed by two such camps every year from 2024.
Furthermore, he declared that the Centre of Excellence for IT in Papua New Guinea would be upgraded into a “Regional Information Technology and Cybersecurity Hub”.
Moreover, Modi announced a project aimed at developing the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector in each Pacific Island country.
The Indian government will also convert at least one government building into a solar-powered structure in all FIPIC countries.
To address water scarcity, Modi pledged to supply desalination units to the people of each Pacific Island country.
Additionally, he revealed plans to offer 1000 ITEC training opportunities within the next five years through the “Sagar Amrut Scholarship” scheme for Pacific Island countries.
Earlier in his welcome remarks, PNG prime minister Marape said that the Global South has a shared history of colonisation and development challenges. “Our resources have been harvested by tonnes and volumes, but our people have been left behind”.
Stating that India has “emerged as the leader of the Global South”, he asked New Delhi to offer to be the “third big voice in the face of the Global North”.
Marape brought up the issue of climate change which is an existential issue for the island nations. “Needless to remind all of us that climate change is not an issue caused by developing nations, especially small island nations. Your sisters and brothers sitting here have people exposed to sea level rise, salination of agricultural land, loss of land for national security. We need a big third voice to be active for the small island nations at G2O, at G7”.
Referring to the consequences of the Ukraine war, he noted that the Pacific Island nations were “victims” of “big nations at play in terms of geopolitics and power struggles”.
Stating that they all faced rising power and energy prices, Marape assured that the Pacific islands will “rally behind your leadership at global forums”.
The Indian PM commiserated that during this “difficult period”, those countries “whom we considered trustworthy, it turned out that they were not standing by our side in times of need”. “During these challenging times, an old saying has proven true: ‘A Friend in need is a friend indeed’,” he said in his speech in Hindi.
He assured that India shared a common belief in multilateralism. “We support a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific. We respect the sovereignty and integrity of all countries,” said Modi.
The Indian PM also had separate bilateral meetings with all the visiting leaders, including the New Zealand prime minister.
Besides, the governor-general of Papua New Guinea Bob Dadae conferred the nation’s highest honour, Grand Companion of the Order of Logohu (GCL) on Modi.