Prime Minister Narendra Modi has just completed the second leg of a visit that has taken him to Hiroshima and Papua New Guinea. The last leg of his visit beginning is now taking place in Australia.
India was a special invitee to the Hiroshima summit of the Group of Seven (G7) rich nations. The visit to Papua New Guinea was the first by an Indian Prime Minister and was centered on the summit of the India-led Forum for Indo-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC). The visit to Australia was originally to attend the summit of the Quadrilateral Grouping (Quad). But US President Joe Biden cancelled the Australia part of his visit, leading to the cancellation of the meeting. So, Modi has modified his programme and met with Australian leaders, CEOs, and the diaspora.
As part of their outreach to the Global South, the G7 host country Japan invited India, along with a number of other countries like Indonesia, Brazil, Comoros, Cook Islands, Vietnam, Korea, and Australia. By including countries big and small, the G7 sought to obtain a wider consensus on their views on matters like China’s growing assertiveness, debt and development issues, climate change, and Ukraine.
In the format adopted by Japan, Modi was able to participate and put forward India’s views in three of the nine sessions of the summit. It also enabled him to meet his counterparts from across the world. According to the MEA website, Modi had formal meetings with leaders of Japan, Brazil, the UK, France, Vietnam, and Korea.
Modi and Zelenskyy's First in-Person Meeting
The highlight of his bilateral meetings was with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy who was a surprise guest at the event.
On Saturday, Modi met Zelenskyy for their first in-person meeting. He told him that though the conflict has had a significant impact on the world, for him “this is not a political or economic issue but an issue of humanity, of human values.” He further told Zelenskyy that India supported “dialogue and diplomacy to find a way forward.”
Later, speaking at a session of the G7 meeting he repeated these points adding that India “will make every possible effort to contribute… for resolving this situation.”
He added that all countries needed to respect the UN Charter, international law, and “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations.” In an oblique reference to China’s actions in Ladakh, he called for all countries to “raise their voice together” against unilateral attempts to change the status quo. Pointing to how India and Bangladesh had resolved their maritime boundary dispute, he said that “India has always been of the opinion that any tension, any dispute should be resolved through peaceful means, through dialogue.”
Zelenskyy would have been disappointed in Modi reiterating India’s long-held positions on these issues. But it is unlikely that he expected any immediate shift in New Delhi’s position on Ukraine. Nor would he have been surprised at the fact that there is little indication that India plans to enhance its role in trying to resolve the conflict.
Modi would have been conscious of the fact that India will be hosting the SCO leaders summit in July 2023, and thereafter, the G20 summit in September. There is a possibility that Russian President Vladimir Putin will personally attend one or both summits.
China: G7's Principal Focus
Likewise, the G20 may feature the participation of Chinese President Xi Jinping. New Delhi is likely to have to work overtime to ensure that a consensual summit statement can be arrived at in both cases and therefore it is being careful in what it says and does on issues like Ukraine.
The leaders of G7 discussed a range of issues in various sessions. But their principal focus seemed to be China. In their joint statement, they condemned China’s “economic coercion” and “militarisation activities” in the South China Sea.
They also agreed to create a new group to deal with hostile economic actions, mainly by China, using its trade dependence to coerce nations. What was significant, too, was the clear-cut support to Ukraine “for as long as it takes in the face of Russia’s illegal war of aggression.”
India's Summit With Pacific Island Leaders
With the cancellation of the Quad summit in Australia, the member countries present in Hiroshima decided on an impromptu meeting in Japan itself. A joint statement after the meeting listed a number of new initiatives ranging from a Clean Energy Supply Chain Initiative to facilitate R&D, a Quad Infrastructure Fellowships Programme to support aimed at policymakers and practitioners, a Partnership for Cable Connectivity and Resilience to leverage their collective expertise in design, manufacturing, and maintenance of undersea cables and to secure these critical networks and a Quad Investors network to facilitate investments in strategic technologies.
On Monday, 22 May, Modi held a summit with the Pacific Island leaders at Port Moresby, in Papua New Guinea. Modi told the 14 leaders of the FIPIC that India would be a reliable partner to small island states amid difficulties caused by supply chain disruptions and climate change.
Earlier, he noted on social media that he had discussed “ways to augment cooperation in commerce, technology, healthcare and in addressing climate change” with Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister James Marape.
It is perhaps not a coincidence that the FIPIC took place on the same day as the summit of the US-Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) at Port Moresby.
US President Joe Biden was expected to attend but the cancellation of the visit led to a truncated meeting featuring US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and other members of the PIF.
Other Meetings and Agreements
New Zealand and India took the opportunity to arrange a bilateral meeting between their two Prime Ministers. Modi also had a bilateral meeting with Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka on Monday, 22 May. It was on the occasion of Modi’s visit to Fiji in 2014 that the FIPIC had been launched.
Meanwhile, on Monday, Blinken signed a Defence Cooperation Agreement with Papua New Guinea and conducted a meeting with Pacific Island leaders. The US-Papua New Guinea agreement would allow US Coast Guard Vessels with Papua New Guinea officials aboard its EEZ (exclusive economic zone). In addition, the US would provide $45 million to strengthen economic and security cooperation with Papua New Guinea.
US actions are aimed at countering the growing Chinese influence in the region.
In 2022, Beijing signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands. Chinese President Xi has visited the region three times, including a 2018 visit to Papua New Guinea. The US is a significant political and military presence in the region and it is working belatedly with its allies like Australia and New Zealand to counter the Chinese inroads there. But just what pressing interests New Delhi has in the South Pacific and Papua New Guinea are not very clear.
(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow of the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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