Modi to meet leaders of Pacific island nations

Leaders of 12 Pacific island nations are expected to assemble in Suva to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Fiji next week, as New Delhi is finally set to join the race with Beijing for greater geopolitical influence in the region.

Modi’s one-day tour to Fiji on November 19 will follow Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the archipelagic nation in the South Pacific Ocean next Friday. The leaders of other Pacific Island nations will join Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama in Suva for a meeting with Xi too.

China has since long been trying to raise its influence over Fiji and other island nations in the region by aiding a series of development projects and boosting economic ties. India’s engagement with the region has so far been limited, although the Prime Minister’s visit to Fiji is likely to kick-start a renewed effort by New Delhi to expand its footprints in the strategically important region.

“We can build stronger economic cooperation and closer partnership in international and multilateral forums with our friends in Pacific Island. I look forward to a future of regular engagement and more robust cooperation with Fiji and other Pacific Island countries,” Modi said in a statement on Monday, indicating New Delhi’s keenness to institutionalise India’s engagement with the Pacific island nations.

India at present provides $125,000 annually to Fiji and each of the other countries in the South Pacific Ocean. Modi may announce a hike during his interactions with the leaders of the region.

Teams of the Indian Space Research Organisation used Fiji to track India’s Mars Orbiter Mission Mangalyan. “We also owe them (Fiji government) a debt of gratitude for hosting our scientists on the island in support of our Mars Mission,” said Modi.

Fiji looks to India for support in health, education, agriculture and other areas. The island sources medicines from India and could become a hub for the pharmaceutical industry of India to reach out to the market in the Pacific, Anil Wadhwa, Secretary (East) in the Ministry of External Affairs, said on Monday.

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