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Anurag Gondhalekar asked: What is the significance of the Pacific region for India? Why is India increasing its engagement with the Island nations of the Pacific?

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  • Udai Bhanu Singh replies: A new element of India’s Act East policy has been the extension of India’s Look East policy beyond the ASEAN, with emphasis on strengthening ties with 14 Pacific island countries. The 14 prominent Pacific island countries are: Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Cook Islands, Nauru, Tuvalu, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Samoa, Niue, Vanuatu, Palau, Marshall Islands and Micronesia.

    Although these islands are geographically remote, they are strategically significant from New Delhi’s point of view as they sit astride important sea lines of communication through which important maritime trade is conducted.

    India hosted the second Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC) Summit at Jaipur in August 2015. The first FIPIC Summit was held in Fiji in November 2014 which Prime Minister Narendra Modi had attended. India’s engagement of the Pacific Islands should not be seen as a counter to China (even as six of them have relations with Taiwan), but as a means to increase trade and investment with these countries. Currently, the annual trade between the Pacific islands and India is about $300 million only, with imports pegged at a mere $100 million. Papua New Guinea and Fiji are particularly important to India and there is an urgent need to improve connectivity.

    India has extended its support to the Pacific island countries in the field of space and ocean development, dealing with natural disasters, etc. India offers gratis visa to the nationals of the Pacific island countries. In turn, India seeks their support for its own position on climate change and reform of the United Nations.

    India is also a dialogue partner of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) formed in 1999. India was admitted as a dialogue partner in 2002.

    For more on FIPIC, please refer to the following IDSA publication:

    Bhaskar Balakrishnan, “Forum for India Pacific Islands Cooperation Moves Ahead”, August 25, 2015.

    Posted on March 14, 2016