After his much publicised and successful bilateral visit to Australia, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Fiji on 19 November 2014. Apart from addressing the Fijian Parliament he also attended and addressed a specially convened meeting of the leaders of all fourteen Pacific Island countries and made a series of commitments of assistance, both financial and technical. This was the first prime ministerial visit from India since Indira Gandhi visited Suva in 1981, some 33 years ago.
The Fiji bilateral
The meeting with Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama focused on various issues including ‘renewable energy, especially solar and wind energy, and in building capacity to adapt to climate change.’
In his address to the Fiji Parliament, Mr Modi pointed out that both the Fijian and Indian parliaments had women as Speakers but that the Fijian Parliament had done better: one in every seven members was a woman while in India the ratio was one in nine.
He recognised Fiji’s role as a hub in the region, its valuable contribution to UN Peacekeeping Missions, and thanked the country for hosting Indian scientists involved in tracking India’s successful Mars mission, Mangalyaan.
He also announced India’s new assistance to projects specific to Fiji:
- a Parliamentary Library
- doubling the number of scholarships and training positions offered by India
- a grant of $5 million to strengthen and modernise village, small and medium enterprises
- a line of credit of $70 million for the establishment of a co-generation power plant at the Rarav Sugar Mill and
- another line of credit of $5 million for upgrading the sugar industry.
Finally, Mr Modi also thanked Prime Minister Bainimarama ‘for providing a great platform for the first ever interaction between India and the Pacific Islands’.
Meeting with Pacific Island Leaders
Mr Bainimarama’s success in organising a meeting with Pacific Island Leaders is significant in that it came only weeks after Fiji refused to rejoin the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) following the lifting of a ban imposed five years ago following the coup. Fiji insists that it will rejoin only after Australia and New Zealand leave the PIF and become only ‘development partners’.
(In the event, on 31 October 2014, during a visit to Fiji by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop the two sides agreed ‘to discuss regional architecture to ensure it remains relevant to political, economic and social needs’).
Apart from Fiji, leaders of all Pacific Island countries including the Cook Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Nauru, Kiribati Vanuatu Solomon Islands, Samoa, Niue, Palau, Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea and the Federated States of Micronesia met Prime Minister Modi on 19 November 2014.
During this meeting Mr Modi announced Indian assistance in a wide range of fields to strengthen ‘this partnership’. These include:
- creating a Special Adaptation Fund of $1 million to deal with climate change. This would include technical assistance and training for capacity building
- sharing data from satellite applications for monitoring climate change, resource management and disaster risk reduction and management
- secondment of technical experts including in the fields of agriculture, healthcare and IT
- Pan Pacific Islands Project:
- following the success of the pan-Africa project, a proposal to develop a pan-Pacific Islands project for telemedicine and tele-education and
- a solar energy project at the community level. This would also include regional hubs.
- an increase from $125,000 to $200,000 in the recurring annual grant to each PIC (Pacific Island Country) for community projects
- support for the establishment of a trade office in India for PICs
- training for diplomats and visa-on-arrival for nationals from PICs and
- the establishment of a Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC) which would meet on a regular basis, with the first meeting proposed to be held in India in 2015.
Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Fiji was a success at a bilateral and regional level. His continued emphasis on alternate sources of energy and the preparation for the effects of climate change would not have gone unnoticed among the PICs given their long-standing concerns which have been expressed at various levels, including to Australia.