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India’s Indo-Pacific footprint set to expand during PM Modi’s flying visit to Papua New Guinea

A file image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the leaders of the Pacific Islands in New York in September 2019 (Image courtesy: PIB)

A 19-gun salute, along with a red-carpet welcome, awaits Prime Minister Narendra Modi when Air India One lands in Port Moresby, capital of Papua New Guinea (PNG), north of Australia this Sunday.

PM Modi is expected to be in the largest Pacific Island country for less than 24 hours while travelling from the G7 Leaders’ Summit in Japan’s Hiroshima (May 19-21) to the Quad Leaders’ Summit in Sydney (May 24).

PNG is not only a resource-rich country – it has estimated recoverable reserves of about 23 million ounces of gold, 500 million barrels of oil and 35 trillion cubic feet of natural gas – but is also strategically located in the Indo-Pacific region.

Over the past few years, the strategic waters have witnessed much turbulence as China continues to gain influence in the region, especially in the Solomon Islands, through the southward extension of its controversial Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

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Port Moresby is getting ready for the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Image courtesy: Twitter/@skerah)

Besides holding bilateral discussions with James Marape, his counterpart from Papua New Guinea – also currently the Acting Foreign Affairs Minister of the country – Prime Minister Modi will attend the Forum for India–Pacific Island Cooperation (FIPIC).

He will be meeting other Pacific Island Forum leaders at the event which has deepened India’s relationship with countries of the region with the evolution of the Act East Policy.

The flying visit also carries forward PM Modi’s vision of utilising its current G20 presidency to give resonance to the voice of the Global South and the importance of South-South Cooperation to collectively shape the global agenda.

Interestingly, US President Joe Biden – also travelling from Hiroshima to Sydney – too would be in the PNG capital next Monday in what would be the first instance of a sitting US President visiting a Pacific Island country.

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Courtesy: Google Maps

“India is a huge country – a global economic powerhouse – and it is good for PNG that we have a good relationship with them. India is currently ranked as the fourth-largest economy in the world and will continue to grow bigger,” said Marape ahead of PM Modi’s visit.

The Papua New Guinea Prime Minister reviewed preparations for the visit in a high-level meeting with Inbasekar Sundaramurthi, Indian High Commissioner to the island nation.

After his arrival, PM Modi is scheduled to meet members of the Indian community in Port Moresby. The approximately 3,000 members of the Indian diaspora in PNG continue to make a significant contribution to the economy and society of the island nation.

According to Marape, the National Executive Council of Papua New Guinea has endorsed some “possible deliverables” to be formalised during the visit of PM Modi.

It includes Memorandums-of-Understanding (MOU) on cooperation in Micro Small to Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), on foreign office consultation, between election commissions of both nations, between Prasar Bharati and National Broadcasting Corporation PNG, reciprocal visa-on-arrival arrangements, visa exemption agreement for diplomatic and official passport holders, cultural exchange programme (CEP), among others.

“Cabinet has directed the Department of Foreign Affairs to liaise with relevant sectoral agencies and departments to ensure the above deliverables are ready on time to be announced during my meeting with Prime Minister Modi,” said Marape.

Indian Navy
A file photo of INS Satpura berthed in the Kings Warf in Fiji’s capital city of Suva (Image courtesy: High Commission of India in Suva)

An appeal has also been made by Marape to the Papua New Guineans to be “cautious” in light of the “increasing number of comments, on both social and mainstream media” in the lead-up to the visits by the two world leaders.

“I want to appeal to all Papua New Guinea commentators, on both social and mainstream media, to refrain from unnecessary comments and innuendoes about the visits of President Biden and Prime Minister Modi,” PM Marape said earlier this month.

“Such visits are not easy to put together, as Papua New Guinea is not the only country in the Indo-Pacific region that they could have chosen to visit, especially at a time like this.

“Let us not take such visits for granted. I appeal to all commentators on both mainstream and social media to refrain from making unnecessary inferences, especially on matters that you know little of, such as global geopolitics and various other issues,” he added.

Besides the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC), the 18 Pacific Island leaders from Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu will also attend the Pacific Island Forum.