Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pacific Island Nations

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pacific Island Nations

Role of ESCAP in the Asia-Pacific


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ESCAP

Mains level : Paper 2-Challenges facing Asia-Pacific region and scope for cooperation

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) is one of the five regional commissions under the jurisdiction of the United Nations Economic and Social Council. This article examines the common challenges that ESCAP region faces- such as danger of pollution to the marine ecosystem, lack of data about ocean, connectivity issue faces by small island nations etc. Scope for the collaboration between ESCAP nations is explored.

Strain on marine ecosystem and its implications

  • The Asia-Pacific seas provide food, livelihoods and a sense of identity, especially for coastal communities in the Pacific island states.
  • Escalating strains on the marine environment is threatening our growth and way of life.
  • In less than a century, climate change and unsustainable resource management have degraded ecosystems and diminished biodiversity.
  • Over-fishing has exponentially increased, leaving fish stocks and food systems vulnerable.
  • Marine plastic pollution originating from region’s rivers has contributed to most of the debris flooding the ocean.

Lack of data for SDG 14: Life below water

  • Insights from ‘Changing Sails: Accelerating Regional Actions for Sustainable Oceans in Asia and the Pacific’, the theme study of this year’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), focuses a lot on the need of data collection in the region.
  • At present, data are available for only two out of ten targets for the Sustainable Development Goal 14, ‘Life Below Water’.
  • Due to limitations in methodology and national statistical systems, information gaps have persisted at uneven levels across countries.

Challenges facing the region

1. Plastic Pollution

  • Asia and the Pacific produces nearly half of global plastic by volume, of which it consumes 38%.
  • Plastics represent a double burden for the ocean1) their production generates CO2 absorbed by the ocean, 2) as a final product enters the ocean as pollution.
  • Need of the hour is effective national policies and re-thinking production cycles i.e. promoting a circular economy approach.
  • Economic incentives and disincentives are necessary for the adoption of these policies as well as for minimizing resource use.

2. Decline in fish stocks

  • Region’s position as the world’s largest producer of fish has come at the cost of over-exploitation.
  • The percentage of stocks fished at unsustainable levels has increased threefold from 10% in 1974 to 33% in 2015.
  • Generating complete data on fish stocks, fighting illicit fishing activity and conserving marine areas must remain a priority.

3. Connectivity of island nations

  • While the most connected shipping economies are in Asia, the small island developing States of the Pacific experience much lower levels of connectivity.
  • This leaves them relatively isolated from the global economy.
  • Closing the maritime connectivity gap must be placed at the centre of regional transport cooperation efforts.
  • We must also work with the shipping community to navigate toward green shipping. Enforcing sustainable shipping policies is essential.

Areas of cooperation

  • Trans-boundary ocean management and linking ocean data in the region can be the starting step.
  • Harnessing ocean statistics through strong national statistical systems will serve as a compass guiding countries to monitor trends, devise timely responses and clear blind spots.
  • ESCAP by using Ocean Accounts Partnership can help to harmonise ocean data and provide a space for regular dialogue among nations.
  • Translating international agreements and standards into national action is the key here. Also ensuring capacity building among nations to do so.
  • ESCAP is working with member states to implement International Maritime Organization (IMO) requirements.

Consider the question-“What are the challenges facing the nations of Asia-Pacific amid growing levels of pollution and climate change. How cooperation among the countries of the region mitigate the risks? “


Our oceans keep our economy and our lives above the waves. We must use the years ahead to steer our collective fleets toward sustainable oceans.

Back2Basics: ESCAP- United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)

  • India has been the founding member of ESCAP.
  • UNESCAP is the regional development arm of the United Nations in Asia and the Pacific, with a membership of 62 Governments, including 58 from the region.
  • Established in 1947 with its headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand.
  • UNESCAP serves as the highest intergovernmental regional platform to promote cooperation among member States for creating a more interconnected region working to achieve inclusive and sustainable economic and social development.
  • It carries out work in the areas of macroeconomic policy, poverty reduction and financing for development; trade and investment; transport; environment and sustainable development; information and communications technology and disaster risk reduction; social development; statistics, sub-regional activities for development; and energy.
  • UNESCAP also focuses on sub-regional activities to provide in-depth technical assistance to address specific key priorities, including poverty reduction and sustainable development, in the respective sub-regions.

IMO- International Maritime Organisation

  • The IMO was established following agreement at a UN conference held in Geneva in 1948.
  • And the IMO came into existence ten years later, meeting for the first time in 1959.
  • As a specialized agency of the United Nations, IMO is the global standard-setting authority for the safety, security and environmental performance of international shipping.
  • Its main role is to create a regulatory framework for the shipping industry that is fair and effective, universally adopted and universally implemented.
  • IMO measures cover all aspects of international shipping – including ship design, construction, equipment, manning, operation and disposal – to ensure that this vital sector for remains safe, environmentally sound, energy-efficient and secure.


Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pacific Island Nations

Mapping: Islands in the Pacific


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Mapping: Islands in the Pacific

Mains level : Not Much

Approximately four months after COVID-19 was first detected, the South Pacific Islands have not yet reported any cases of the infectious disease.

Closely observe the map. Note important islands. UPSC may shift its traditional focus from middle east/central asia to this region. These days, Pacific and Indo-Pacific region carry a decent importance.

We can expect MCQs asking to arrange these islands in north-south / east-west direction.

Which South Pacific islands have recorded cases of COVID-19?

  • Fiji recorded its first case of COVID-19 on March 19.
  • Guam, a territory of the US in the South Pacific, witnessed an outbreak among the staff of the US navy.
  • New Caledonia also recorded its first COVID-19 cases in mid-March, with links to overseas travel.
  • The Solomon Islands, the Cook Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, the Marshall Islands, Palau and Nauru have no recorded cases of COVID-19.

What impact will COVID-19 have on Pacific island nations?

  • A widespread outbreak of COVID-19 will have a disastrous impact on these island nations.
  • Although these islands are popular with tourists, the outer islands and rural villages are home to indigenous populations.
  • Most of these areas have a very basic infrastructure for healthcare, with larger hospitals and medical centres located in bigger towns.
  • Even in everyday circumstances, these small medical centres struggle due to the lack of medical supplies.
  • The socio-cultural factors, like the prevalence of large families in this region, also make the individuals susceptible to community transmission.
  • There is also a lack of access to running water, making sanitation difficult.
  • Environmental factors like the seasonal tropical cyclone that swept through the region in April, led to the displacement of hundreds of people in the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu and Tonga.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pacific Island Nations

Explained: How US coined ‘Indo-Pacific’ to redefine geo-politics


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Significance of Indo-Pacific Region

What is Indo-Pacific?

  • In geographical terms, the Indo-Pacific refers to the two oceans — the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean — between the east coast of Africa, and the American west coast and all the countries with a coast on it.
  • It has been in currency among scholars of international relations and geo-politics since the first decade of this century as an economic and a strategic region.
  • However, its widespread use began after an October 2017 speech on US-India relations by former US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who spoke of an India-US partnership in the interests of a “free and open Indo-Pacific”, as India was more reliable than China.

Why use the term?

  • This move is redefining the region away from China’s economic and strategic dominance.
  • India’s resistance at the height of the tensions over several issues – the Doklam military standoff, the CPEC running through PoK, and more generally over the entire Chinese BRI.
  • The adoption of the term appeared to challenge India to play a larger role in the region, for instance in the Quad.

More focus on India

  • US emphasizes to collaborate with India to ensure that the Indo-Pacific is increasingly a place of peace, stability, and growing prosperity — so that it does not become a region of disorder, conflict, and predatory economics.
  • It also seemed to put India squarely in the middle of this region, challenging it to a larger role in the region, for instance in the Quad, or the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue that informally brings together for strategic talks and military exercises.
  • The “Indo-Pacific” has evoked mixed reactions in the Indian strategic community, with some cautioning that such positioning should not aggravate Delhi’s tensions with Beijing.

What are Pacific Island Nations (PINs)?

  • These are 14 island countries in Pacific Ocean – Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu


  • These countries range in land area from the largest Papua New Guinea (461,700 sq km) to the smallest Nauru (21 sq km)
  • The size of their population ranges from Papua New Guinea (7.7 million) to Niue (1,500)
  • Development indicators also vary widely with per capita income ranging from USD 27,340 (Cook Islands) to USD 1020 (Papua New Guinea)

Why study about PINs?

  • On August 21, 2015 India hosted the second edition of Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC) summit in Jaipur
  • All the 14 nations of the group participated in the summit
  • So obviously, this becomes an important topic for exam and you cannot ignore this as an unimportant grouping

Importance of the Pacific area:

  • Though these countries are relatively small in land area and distant from India, many have large exclusive economic zones (EEZs), and offer promising possibilities for fruitful cooperation
  • The Pacific Ocean is the earth’s largest ocean covering 46% of water surface and 33% of the earth’s total surface, making it larger than the entire earth’s land area
  • It is bounded by 41 sovereign states plus Taiwan, and 22 non-independent territories
  • It is rich in marine resources and accounts for 71% of the world’s ocean fishery catch
  • The Pacific has for long been an area of geostrategic interest for countries such as the US, Japan, China, Russia, Australia, and Indonesia – large economies which lie on its boundary
  • Two developed Pacific Island countries – Australia and New Zealand – have tended to dominate regional cooperation forums such as the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF)

Issues with PINs:

  • They are dispersed and low populated countries
  • They have logistics problems to develop their economies
  • Less manufacturing activity
  • With climate change and global warming, these countries fear of being drowned or disappeared
  • Their natural resources are being depleted day-by-day – sugar, timber etc.
  • India used to import phosphates from the Nauru Island, which is now being depleted
  • Problems in sugar market due to global vagaries

External influences:

#1. Australia: These countries are highly influenced by Australia due to its close proximity – for example, Australia helping the development of natural gas of Papua New Guinea etc.

#2. China

  • China has significantly expanded its foothold in the region, from increasing business and trade ties to setting up diplomatic missions in each of these countries
  • More than 3,000 Chinese companies are already operating in these Island groups in various businesses.
  • China is now the largest bilateral donor in Fiji and the second largest in the Cook Islands, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, and Tonga
  • Last year, China provided around $2 billion credit to these nations collectively
    6 out of 14 Pacific Islands recognize Taiwan as a legitimate govt of China
  • Taiwan is already holding annual meet with these countries to engage them

#3. These island groups are forming partnerships with EU and other economic groupings

Where can India engage?

#1. UNSC: These 14 nations are supporting India’s attempts to become permanent member of UNSC

#2. Agriculture:

  • These are agriculture oriented economies
  • Major products- palm oil, sugar, and timber
  • We can do value addition to their products- copra, sugar, timber
  • They are diversifying in oil production and we are short on edible oil so this is a major area to work on
  • India can make use of the mahogany (timber) that is extensively grown in these islands, for getting raw materials for paper industry

#3. Minerals:

  • These islands have plenty of oil, gas, and minerals in their sea beds
  • For example, the Kiribati islands, they are spread over an area that is bigger than the Indian subcontinent and have rich sources of minerals
  • India can form joint ventures and explore these minerals

#4. Disaster Management: These islands are frequently affected by natural disasters like typhoons, earthquakes etc. India can help them in disaster management

#5. Services sector:

  • The other biggest potential area which India can leverage from these islands is the development of services sector – IT, tourism, healthcare and fisheries
  • We can explore tourism options to these isolated beautiful spots
  • Tourism also has an advantage from the fact that there are large number of ethnic Indians in these islands
  • Many of these countries send their nationals to India for education though programmes sponsored by the Indian Council of Cultural Relations

#6. Energy:

  • India is developing renewable energy and has set a target of 175 GW by 2022. It can help the Pacific Islands in this area and provide energy security
  • We can transplant our experience of A&N islands in establishing isolated energy grids in these countries
  • There has been lot of tree cutting for industrialisation and they are using more diesel for power. We can help them by providing assistance in renewable energy

#7. Democracy:

  • In the past, these pacific islands have faced a threat to democracy
  • For example- there was a coup in Fiji which overthrew the democratically elected government, there was a civil war in Papua New Guinea
  • In this context, India can serve as a stable and solid partner, as it is one of the largest democracies in the world, so that these islands can have an assured trade and investment relations.

#8. Ethnicity:

  • Unlike other proximate countries like Australia, India has intimate relations, going beyond exploration of natural resources, with these nations
  • Culturally they are linked to India. For example, Fiji has huge number of Indian ethnic population
  • We should leverage this advantage to engage & establish more intimate relations

#9. Climate Change: India should fight for their cause in the coming UN Climate Change meetings & should see to it that these islands get enough finances for disaster mitigation

#10. The Pacific Island groups have enthusiastically welcomed India’s offer in telemedicine, tele-education, space cooperation, fostering democracy and community activities

#11. These countries are in need of MSME and we have good experience in developing them


  • The Forum for India–Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC) was launched during PM’s visit to Fiji in November 2014


  • FIPIC includes 14 of the island countries – Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu


  • Though these countries are relatively small in land area and distant from India, many have large exclusive economic zones (EEZs), and offer promising possibilities for fruitful cooperation.
  • India’s focus has largely been on the Indian Ocean where it has sought to play a major role and protect its strategic and commercial interests
  • The FIPIC initiative marks a serious effort to expand India’s engagement in the Pacific region
  • At this moment, total annual trade of about $300 million between the Indian and Pacific Island countries, where exports are around $200 million and imports are around $100 million
  • This is a part of India’s extended Act East Policy


#1. Suva, Fiji:

  • One of the key outcome of the first summit in Suva, Fiji was that top leadership of both India and Pacific Islands decided to meet at a regular interval and an annual summit was instituted in this regard
  • Other areas- visa on arrival for their nationals, funds for small business, line of credit for a co-generation power plant for Fiji, and a special adaptation fund for technical assistance and capacity building for countering global warming

#2. Jaipur, India:

  • India announced to convene international conference on blue economy in New Delhi in 2016 and invited all the experts form the island nations
  • Set up Space Application Center, in partnership with ISRO, in any of the 14 countries and friendly port calls by the Indian Navy
  • Pacific leaders have expressed their concerns over climate change and its effect on their respective counties. India also assured them to voice their concerns and appropriate measures at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) in Paris
  • In return all the 14 visiting head of state/government reiterated their support to India’s bid for a permanent memberships at the reformed United Nations Security Council
  • India offered to help the Pacific Islands with their hydrography and coastal surveillance, by engaging the Indian Navy. It would help them have a better understanding of their maritime zone and strengthen security of their EEZs
  • India also announced FIPIC Trade Office at Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) to promote Trade & Investment opportunities between India & Pacific Island Countries

Way ahead:

  • China is already on there and giving large credit, so does it mean India can not build good relations with these nations? No
  • We need to build on our advantages- health tourism, building democratic institutions which they need a lot
  • India’s strong relations with Fiji, which has considerable influence in the region, is a strong point which could help counter the growing Chinese influence
  • Relations with Fiji had improved in India’s favour in the past decade and not only those of Indian origin but also Fijians were friendly towards Indians, which worked to Indian advantage
  • Most of the economies in the region are based on agriculture, fisheries and small-scale industries and India’s capacity in these sectors is even better than Europe and China

Published with inputs from Swapnil
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