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India Fiji Relations – Significance of Fiji as India’s gateway to Pacific Ocean Region and Nations

India Fiji Relations – Significance of Fiji as India’s gateway to Pacific Ocean Region and Nations

Relevance

  • GS 2 || International relations || India & Rest of the World || Pacific region

Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) or Pacific region and nations

  • The PSIDS comprises of the 14 Pacific Island countries The Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.
  • PSIDS is a group of small island countries that tend to share similar sustainable development challenges.
  • The challenges include small but growing populations, limited resources, remoteness, susceptibility to natural disasters, vulnerability to external shocks, excessive dependence on international trade, and fragile environments.
  • Their growth and development is also held back by high communication, energy, and transportation costs and little to no opportunity to create economies of scale.

Location

  • These countries are across the globe in the Caribbean, the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans, and the Mediterranean and the South China Sea.

India and PSIDS Relations

  • With the evolution of the Act East Policy of India, India’s relationship with Pacific Island nations has deepened.
  • This resulted in the setting up of an action-oriented multinational grouping named Forum for India-Pacific Island Cooperation(FIPIC) in 2014, between India and the 14 Pacific Island nations.
  • India and Fiji share cordial and friendly relations based on mutual respect, cooperation, and strong cultural & people-to-people ties.
  • On the sidelines of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly in 2019, India has announced a $150 million worth line of credit to the group of Pacific island nations for undertaking solar, renewable energy, and climate-related projects.
  • India also invited the leaders of the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) to join the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI).

Importance of Fiji

  • Fiji would be important to India for stronger engagement in Pacific Islands. Hence it is a crucial entity in the  Look East Policy.
  • India and Fiji Development Cooperation
  • Four MOUs pacts on Cooperation in health, Tourism, IT, and establishment of Joint Trade Committee were signed during the visit.
  • A Few electronic voting machines for trial and possible use in their elections; training of election officials
  • The Sahyadri Group of Hospitals trains Fijian doctors, nurses, etc in India. GoI has given a grant of US $ 200,000 to upgrade the facilities in CWM Hospital in Suva.
  • In the perspective of flood and devastation in Fiji Islands caused by Cyclone Tomas in March 2010, the Government of India assisted of US$100,000/- in May 2010 and contributed US$ 100,000 to the Prime Minister’s National Disaster, Relief and Rehabilitation Account for the floods and cyclone in 2009.

Challenges in the relations

  • Narrow focus
    • It is hard to define India’s South Pacific policy, apart from a pretension of pre-occupation with the Fijians of Indian origin. This narrow focus has limited India’s ability to broadly inspire all the peoples of the region.
    • Not only does it appear almost ‘race-based, but it also limits non-Indo-Fijian people-to-people interactions. This has resulted in a narrow and inadequate knowledge between the people of India and those of the South Pacific.
  • China factor
    • The rise of China across the Indian and Pacific Oceans challenges the security umbrella established at the end of the Second World War and strengthened after the end of the Cold War. The emergence of the Indo-Pacific as a new geographic space—bringing together the Indian and the Pacific Oceans—represents the new strategic reality of the twenty-first century.
    • The emergence of China as an additional and perhaps an alternative security provider compelled India to review its foreign policy choices under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. China’s economic growth, combined with its military modernization, continues to widen the strategic and capacity gap with India.
  • Track One-and-a-Half’ diplomacy
    • The Indian government has traditionally relied on its missions in Fiji, Australia, and New Zealand, and the Indian diaspora in Fiji, for visibility and knowledge in the region. This ‘Track One-and-a-Half’ diplomacy may have worked for India in other parts of the world, but not in the South Pacific where cultures, economies, and priorities are complex and vastly different from one another and where direct people-to-people connectivity would have been beneficial.
  • Example
    • when the Indian government attempted to reach out to Fiji after the first anti-Indian coup in Fiji in the early 1970s to assist Indo-Fijians in that country, it was barred by Australia which then was the influential power in the region.
    • Additionally, relations between Indo-Fijians and indigenous Fijians have famously been a source of intense friction in the domestic politics of that country. Assuming then, that Indo-Fijians, or even Fiji, will be a neutral vanguard of Indian interests in the region is not only limited but seriously flawed.

Way forward

  • Extending diplomatic missions-To strengthen its role in the pacific islands India could seek membership in the Pacific islands forum beyond its present dialogue partner status. It should commit to extend diplomatic missions in the South Pacific region and promote developmental activities there.
    • The extended Look East policy i.e ‘Act east policy’ of India should be extended to cover the South Pacific Ocean in general and Fiji in particular.
      India’s soft power and cultural diplomacy would be the answer to china’s Yuan diplomacy to appeal to both native Fijiian’s and Indo-Fijian communities which would strengthen India’s role and presence in Pacific Islands and would catalyze south-south cooperation.
  • Strengthened Cooperation- The learnings from India’s organic and innovative service industries are exactly what the countries of the South Pacific need, to supplement and revive their heavily exploited islands that are currently dependent on Beijing and the Developed World. Cooperation in energy, agriculture, and maritime activities, which are at the heart of the Indo-Pacific arc, can be initiated.
  • More active and enhanced relations-The South Pacific is the transit point for $5 trillion worth of trade between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. Its location is geostrategic and has the greatest concentration of the world’s micro-nations: 14, all of which have a vote in the United Nations and can lean in India’s favor if only relations were much more active.
  • Containing China-The country’s expanding reach has encompassed relations with small island developing states (SIDS), which some find to be an enigma given their marginal if not irrelevant significance to a global superpower.
    • As China is investing in these countries, India needs to extend its support and cooperation in the energy,climate, agriculture sectors to lower their dependency on China.

Conclusion

  • The importance of continued engagement with all stakeholders cannot be overstated. Understandably, India has a special friendship with Fiji, but it also needs to proactively develop close relations with other island countries and expand its engagement beyond the current political leadership. This will safeguard its interests in a region with fleeting political stability. Establishing a diplomatic presence in each country would be a welcome first step.
  • If India can make it to Mars, it can certainly make it to the South Pacific.

Mains model question

  • India needs to widen its engagement with other island countries. Discuss

References