New Delhi, May 22
In a rare tandem move to minimise Chinese influence, the US and India held parallel Summit meetings with 14 Pacific Island Countries on the same day in the capital of Papua New Guinea (PNG). PM Narendra Modi announced a 12-point action plan concentrated in health, wellness and community development sectors while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, standing in for President Joe Biden, inked pacts in defence and security areas with PNG.
In a special gesture to PM Modi, the New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins flew 9,000 kms to meet him although one half of his schedule – a bilateral with Biden – was called off after the US President flew home from the Japan G7 summit to resolve the US debt crises.
In his remarks to the assembled leaders of the FIPIC (Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation) Summit, PM Modi made an emotional speech that drew a distinction between the approach followed by India and, without naming it, China.
“Those whom we considered trustworthy, it turned out that they were not standing by our side in times of need. During these challenging times.
“I am glad that India stood with its Pacific island friends during this challenging time. Whether it was vaccines or essential medicines, wheat or sugar; India, in line with its capabilities, has been assisting all partner countries,” he said.
Unveiling the 12-point action plan, PM Modi said India stood ready to share its capabilities and experiences with PIC "without any hesitation" and assured them that "we are with you in every way."
“For me, you are not small island states, but large ocean countries. It is this vast ocean that connects India with all of you,” added PM Modi.
PNG PM James Marape responded by calling the Pacific’s island nations as victims of global power play. “You (PM Modi) are the leader of Global South. We will rally behind your (India) leadership at global forums,” he said.
PM Modi also reaffirmed India's strong support for a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific.
“Our development template is such that it doesn’t burden the economy and matches very well with their priorities. The demand for a super speciality cardiac unit came from Fiji; similarly, the other 11 action points have also been structured based on the need articulated by countries,” pointed out Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra at a post-Summit media interaction.
The Quad meeting held on Saturday in Japan also had elements aimed at keeping China at bay in introducing high technology in Pacific Island Countries by extending its 5\6 G standardisation initiatives to the region.
The difference in US and Indian approaches was evident in the PNG capital. Students demonstrated against Washington’s package of $ 45 million mainly for security cooperation. On the other hand, India’s promised health and social sector assistance came in for all-round praise.
The US and its partners have stepped up their attention to Pacific Islands after Solomon Islands broke ranks to sign a defence pact with China last year. Chinese President Xi Jinping had visited the country in 2018. But they got into concerted action after then Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited nine of these countries and held online bilaterals with leaders of three other island nations in the South Pacific. Wang also hosted the second China- Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Fiji.
12-step action plan:
1. 100-bed regional super specialty hospital in Fiji
2. Regional IT and cyber security training hub in PNG
3. 100 Sagar Amrut Scholarships over five years
4. Jaipur foot camp in PNG by this year-end
5. FIPIC SME development project
6. Solar project for government buildings
7. Desalination units for drinking water
8. Sea ambulances for PIC
9. Dialysis units
10. Emergency helpline number
11. Jan Aushadi kendras
12. Yoga centres
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