India’s Development Strategy with the Pacific Island Countries. Killing Two (or More) Birds with One Stone Briefings de l’Ifri, June 1st, 2023
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s maiden visit to Papua New Guinea (PNG) on May 20-21, 2023, is a testament to India’s international positioning and search for a global role. In Port Moresby, Modi co-chaired the third Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC) and announced a series of steps to enhance development cooperation with its partners of the South Pacific. India’s outreach to the Pacific Island countries (PICs) was clearly in line with its G20 presidency and its campaign to be the leading voice of the Global South.
At the same time, Modi reaffirmed India’s commitment to a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific, opted to contribute alongside the U.S., Japan and Australia to an important telecommunications project in Palau and, more generally, has looked to enhance partnerships with PICs as part of the Quad. Modi’s visit to PNG thus reflected India’s two-pronged strategy of, on the one hand, working with the U.S. and its allies in the Indo-Pacific and, on the other, mobilizing as many countries as possible under the banner of the Global South.
India is no stranger to the South Pacific. It has interacted with the Pacific Island countries in the Commonwealth, the Non-Aligned Movement, and the United Nations system. It has also been a dialogue partner of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) since 2006 and has maintained a special relationship with Fiji, where 40 percent of the population is of Indian origin and Hindi is an official language. Nevertheless, India has generally kept a low profile in the South Pacific, as reflected by its rather limited diplomatic presence. While familiar with the socioeconomic and environmental challenges faced by small island developing states, India has prioritized the neighboring island countries of the Indian Ocean in its foreign and assistance policies.