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MODI PLAYS CRUCIAL ROLE AT STRATEGIC PAPUA NEW GUINEA
Prime Minister Narendra Modi used his trip exceedingly well and astutely as usual when he told the head of state of 14 Pacific island nations two days ago that India can be considered to be a “reliable” development partner and even those considered trustworthy were “not standing by our sides in times of need.” Did he make an oblique reference to the Asian Giant, China? Elaborating further, PM Modi said at the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC) summit in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, that “Those we considered trustworthy, it turned out 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’. I am glad that India stood with its Pacific Island friends during this challenging time (the Covid pandemic). Whether it was vaccines or essential medicines, wheat or sugar; India, in line with its capabilities, has been assisting all partner countries.” Even as Papua New Guinea does not accord ceremonial welcome to any leader coming in after sunset, an exception was made for PM Modi. Not only that, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape, while welcoming PM Modi, touched his feet in a move that drew huge limelight. Modi is also the first Indian PM to visit the country.
IN THE CURRENT CONTEXT, WHY IS PAPUA NEW GUINEA IMPORTANT FOR INDIA?
To discuss this aspect, one must first consider the country’s location which is strategic: Papua New Guinea is located north of Australia, a region where Beijing is attempting to spread its influence and the US and Australia are seeking to counter it. It must be recalled that Beijing has carried out large investments in the country (Papua New Guinea), especially in sectors like infrastructure and schools. Global political analysts consider this to be an attempt to gain military and diplomatic significance. Last year, China inked a security pact with Solomon Islands which is situated in the same region. On Monday, the US and Papua New Guinea signed a security agreement, prompting protests from island residents who oppose ‘militarisation’ of the Pacific. New Delhi’s attempt to boost ties and cooperation with the Pacific Island nations, which include, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, the Republic of Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu apart from Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands.
One has to keenly watch the FIPIC summit and PM Modi’s recent visit to Fiji and Papua New Guinea and realise the importance of the trip. It may be recalled that the FIPIC summit was launched during Modi’s visit to Fiji in 2014. In 2015, the second FIPIC summit was held in Jaipur. This summit is the third one.
THE VIEWS EXPRESSED BY THE AUTHOR ARE PERSONAL