New Delhi, Aug 11 (IANS) India is to host the second edition of the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC) in Jaipur on August 21, with all 14 countries of the region participating — nine months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi on a visit to Fiji proposed holding of the second summit in India.
Of the 14 nations, three would be represented by their respective presidents, one by its vice president, seven island nations are sending their prime ministers, one its deputy prime minister and two are sending a senior minister to the meeting, sources told IANS.
India provides grant-in-aid of $200,000 to each country every year, an official source told IANS.
“The amount is enough for them, as they are not big countries.”
The meet will see India announce steps in which the countries lack expertise — cooperation in coconut and coir and solar energy, among other initiatives, the sources added.
India’s links with the Pacific Island nations, separated from India by 4,000 miles and two oceans, have been limited, compared to China’s expanding presence in the islands, situated to the east of Australia.
India does not have consulates on the islands, but is “covering them from five different countries — New Zealand, Japan, Philippines, Fiji and Papua New Guinea”, the sources added.
India’s first interactions with the Pacific Islands began in the 19th century when Indian indentured workers were brought to Fiji to work in the sugarcane plantations.
Modi, during his visit on November 19 last year, was the second Indian prime minister to visit Fiji in 33 years – after Indira Gandhi.
India’s increasing engagement with the 14 Pacific Islands underlines their growing geo-strategic importance as the countries lie at the centre of a key maritime route rich in resources.
The Exclusive Economic Zone off Papua New Guinea has rich reserves of liquefied natural gas. The other Pacific Island nations too possess resource-rich waters off their coasts, including hydrocarbons.
The 14 island nations – Cook Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Nauru, Kiribati, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Samoa, Niue, Palau, Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Fiji and Papua New Guinea – although small, also have a vote each in international fora – which holds immense strategic weight for New Delhi as it seeks to play a larger international role.
Modi, in his address to the Pacific Island Leaders Meeting, proposed a slew of steps for closer cooperation, including visa on arrival for all and an e-network to connect the islands to provide tele-medicine and tele-education.
He also announced a Special Adaptation Fund of $1 million to provide technical assistance and training for capacity building to the islands.
Modi also announced a hike in Grant-in-Aid from $125,000 to $200,000 annually to each of the islands for community projects selected by them and a trade office of the Pacific Island nations in New Delhi.
The capacity building offered to the island countries through the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) scholarships is also highly valued. It provides the students from the region an opportunity to enroll in short-term training courses at universities in India.
The 14 island nations in the South Pacific Ocean have a total population of over eight million.Fiji has a large Indian origin population of over 300,000, comprising nearly 37 percent of its 849,000 population (2009 estimates).
India’s capacity building initiatives include a training programme for elderly women at the Barefoot College in Rajasthan to install residential solar power units and solar powered water desalination plants.