Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pacific Island Nations

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pacific Island Nations

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


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.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pacific Island Nations

[op-ed snap] Raja Mandala: Battle for islands

Image result for pacific island countries china


Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Chinese influence among Pacific island nations and the need to counter it


Importance of island nations

  1. At the dawn of the modern maritime age four centuries ago, control of critically-located islands became an important part of the rivalry between European powers in the Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific
  2. Islands helped the replenishment of supplies, positioning of troops and ammunition as well as for the host ship to do repair and maintenance
  3. Island dominance was the key to securing the sea lines of communication
  4. The Anglo-American maritime dominance over the last two centuries helped limit the contestation for the islands

Renewed focus on maritime nations

  1. Simultaneous developments last week in different corners of the Indo-Pacific — from the Maldives to Papua New Guinea — remind us of the renewed geopolitical importance of the island states
  2. Connecting these diverse developments is China’s push for greater influence in the Indo-Pacific and the belated resistance from rival powers — including India, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the United States
  3. Today, the rise of China has pitchforked the island states back to the centre stage of major power politics

India-China rivalry in neighbourhood island nations

  1. Modi’s presence at the swearing-in of the new president of the Maldives, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, underlined the renewed warmth in the relations between India & the Maldives
  2. Under Solih’s predecessor, Abdulla Yameen, India’s relations with the Maldives rapidly deteriorated even as China’s influence began to rise
  3. The contestation between Delhi and Beijing in the Maldives inevitably got intertwined with the democratic struggle of the opposition parties to end Yameen’s autocracy
  4. The intersection of Sino-Indian rivalry with domestic politics has also come to the fore in neighbouring Sri Lanka
  5. Last month, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena dismissed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and installed the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa as the head of government
  6. Even before the rest of the world could absorb the meaning of Sirisena’s political coup, the Chinese ambassador in Colombo showed up at Rajapaksa’s office to congratulate him and convey the best wishes of President Xi
  7. India, the US and EU, in contrast, emphasised the importance of due constitutional process and letting parliament test which party had the majority

What do these developments point to?

  1. If China is widely seen as the loser — at least for the moment — from the elections in the Maldives, it was seen as a winner in Rajapaksa’s return to power
  2. During his decade-long rule of Sri Lanka (2004-15), Colombo seemed to steadily drift into China’s orbit
  3. Symbolising China’s new influence in Lanka were the strategic contracts it won to build the Colombo port city and the construction of a new port at Hambantota in the southern part of the island
  4. India, in turn, appeared to lose its historic primacy in the island state

Other cases of China’s raised intervention in island states

  1. Recently the island state of Papua New Guinea hosted the annual summit of the forum for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation
  2. How did the poorest member of the forum venture to host the summit that brings leaders from 20-odd countries
  3. Well, the Chinese and Australians have lent generous assistance
  4. As in the Maldives and Sri Lanka, the last few years have seen a spectacular rise in Chinese commercial and political presence in Papua New Guinea

US and Australia trying to counter China

  1. As speculation mounted that China might be in quest of a military base in Papua New Guinea, Australia and the US moved in and announced that they will fund the development of the port facilities in the Manus Island to the north-east of the main island
  2. Earlier this year, Canberra nudged Beijing out of a deal to build an undersea internet cable between Papua, Australia and the Solomon Islands
  3. Recently, Australia joined the US, Japan and New Zealand in unveiling a project to provide electricity to 70 per cent of the Papua New Guinea population by 2030
  4. Like Delhi in the Indian Ocean, Canberra and Wellington had underestimated the scale and speed of China’s power projection into their South Pacific neighbourhood
  5. So did the US, which failed to react in time to China’s push to gain control of the small rocks and islands of the South China Sea at the beginning of this decade

Way forward

  1. The unfolding contestation for influence in the island states of the Indo-Pacific has just begun
  2. It is unlikely to end any time soon — for one setback in the Maldives or Papua does not diminish China’s growing weight in the Indo-Pacific or its determination to project power far beyond its shores
  3. Unlike the European colonial powers, which could easily prevail over natives of the strategic island territories, today’s major powers have to deal with the more complex domestic politics of the island nations
  4. The ruling regimes in these islands have agency and the capacity to play one power against the other
  5. That promises to make the battle for the islands a prolonged and exciting political spectacle in the Indo-Pacific
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pacific Island Nations

[op-ed snap] Raja Mandala: New ripples in Andaman Seaop-ed snap


Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: SIMBEX exercise, ShangriLa Dialogue

Mains level: Rising importance of the Andaman Sea and the need to step up efforts in the region’s development


SIMBEX exercise & PM’s visit to Singapore

  1. PM Modi’s second visit to Singapore this year is nicely framed by the largest ever naval exercise between the two nations in the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal
  2. The exercises, called the Simbex, began 25 years ago as India embarked on the so-called Look East Policy that sought a renewed economic, political and military engagement with South East Asia
  3. The two sides hope that these bilateral exercises will eventually involve the participation of other South East Asian nations and form the basis for a cooperative security framework in the heart of the Indo-Pacific

India’s view of Indo-Pacific

  1. The PM’s speech on the Indo-Pacific given in the Shangri La Dialogue helped bring the new geopolitical construct to the centre of India’s worldview
  2. But with it has come the traditional Indian tendency to debate the meta-narrative rather than the specific sub-regions of the Indo-Pacific
  3. The novelty of the Indo-Pacific lies in recognising the growing strategic and economic interdependence of the Pacific and Indian Ocean littorals that we saw as separate theatres until recently
  4. The Indo-Pacific is also a sum of its many sub-regions that include the East China Sea, the South China Sea and South Pacific to the east of the Malacca Straits as well as the Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea and the waters of Africa to the west
  5. What India does in these sub-regions is far more important than the abstract debates on the Indo-Pacific

Focus on the Andaman Sea

  1. One such sub-region — the Andaman Sea — is likely to preoccupy India in the coming years
  2. Long seen as a political backwater, the Andaman Sea is rapidly regaining its strategic salience
  3. The Andaman Sea is flanked by the Andaman and Nicobar chain of islands in the West, Myanmar to the north, the Thai-Malay peninsula to the east, and the Sumatra island to the south
  4. It funnels into the Straits of Malacca that connects the Indian and Pacific Oceans
  5. The large amount of shipping that enters the Andaman Sea from the east heads to Singapore, from where it turns the Pacific Ocean

Rising intervention of China in the Andaman Sea

  1. Beijing has signed an agreement with Naypyidaw on building a deep-water port at Kyaukpyu on Myanmar’s Arakan coast in the Bay of Bengal
  2. The port will form an important part of the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, which would connect Kyaukpyu to the Yunnan province in southwestern China via rail and highways
  3. China has already built an oil and gas pipeline system that moves hydrocarbons from Kyaukpyu to inland China
  4. Thailand has also ordered a feasibility study of the Kra Canal, which has been debated for more than three centuries
  5. The canal will cut through the Kra Isthmus and link the Andaman Sea to the Gulf of Thailand
  6. While the cost and sustainability of the project have always deterred investors, there seems to be a fresh push from China to launch the project
  7. The rising Chinese profile in the Andaman Sea is not limited to building strategic infrastructure like China-Myanmar Economic Corridor and the Kra Canal that allow Beijing reduce its current dependence on the Malacca Straits and access the Indian Ocean directly
  8. China’s military profile is also rising
  9. Beijing has sold submarines to Thailand and Bangladesh and its military cooperation with other littoral states of the Andaman Sea has grown steadily
  10. China has also conducted naval exercises with Thailand and Malaysia

Way forward for India

  1. As the waters of the Andaman Sea turn turbulent, India too has begun to accelerate the development of civilian and military infrastructure in the Andaman and Nicobar Island Chain
  2. It has also stepped up political engagement with the Andaman littoral states
  3. But Delhi’s pace might turn out to be too slow to cope with the rapid strategic transformation of the Andaman Sea
  4. Seeing the growing strategic and economic importance of the Andaman Sea, New Delhi must speed up its efforts in coping with this transformation
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pacific Island Nations

[op-ed snap] Raja Mandala: South Pacific Silk Roadsop-ed snap


Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: China’s growing hegemony and its impact on global order


China expanding to South Pacific

  1. India is not the only one struggling to cope with China’s Silk Road ambitions
  2. Down under, Australia and New Zealand are finding that China has begun to undermine their long-standing dominance over the South Pacific
  3. If India took its primacy in the Subcontinent for granted, so did Canberra and Wellington in the South Pacific
  4. Now, all three are scrambling to deal with China’s projection of economic and political power into their backyards

How is China a threat to Australia-New Zealand?

  1. Beijing has significantly expanded its economic engagement and security diplomacy in the island nations across the Indo-Pacific
  2. Australia is worried that China is pushing for a military facility in Vanuatu
  3. Located northeast of Australia, Vanuatu’s population is barely 2,50,000 people, but its 80 islands generate a massive exclusive economic zone
  4. Canberra recently scuttled a bid by China’s Huawei to build an undersea internet cable between Australia, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea
  5. Recognising the potential dangers of the region being tied into China’s digital silk road, Canberra chose to put up the entire cost of the project estimated at $100 million
  6. A defence policy review issued in Wellington last month underlined that China’s growing economic and political profile in the South Pacific could unravel the regional order and threaten New Zealand’s security

Australia New Zealand partnering to combat China

  1. Australia and New Zealand are preparing to sign a wide-ranging security pact with South Pacific nations at a summit with the leaders of the islands in Nauru in September
  2. Canberra and Wellington are also upgrading their national surveillance capabilities in the South Pacific

Opportunity for India

  1. India’s resources will always be limited but it can increase its impact in the region through collaboration with its partner countries like Australia, France, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand and the US — all of whom have great stakes in the South Pacific
  2. Promoting practical cooperation with these nations could be far more productive than Delhi’s theological discussions about the quad, the Indo-Pacific and the BRI
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pacific Island Nations

Other agreements with Papua New Guinea

  1. HRD: India would assist capacity-building and human resource development
  2. Agri: India will also share its advanced techniques and technologies in the agriculture sector
  3. LoC: India Also agreed to provide a line of credit of $100 million for infrastructure projects
  4. Background: The request for the line of credit had been made by PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill on the sidelines of a summit of the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation
  5. UNSC: PNG reiterated its support for India’s claim for permanent membership in the UN Security Council
  6. It also agreed to expedite a proposed Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (IPPA) to facilitate investments
  7. It also announced visa-on-arrival facility for Indian tourists
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pacific Island Nations

India, PNG sign MoUs on IT, health

  1. Context: A two-day visit by President Pranab Mukherjee to Papua New Guinea
  2. IT: A pact to set up a ‘Centre of Excellence’ in information technology
  3. Health: India would provide anti-retroviral drugs and equipment to benefit 20,000 HIV positive patients in Papua New Guinea
  4. This would help at least half the number of those suffering from the disease
  5. UNAIDS estimates: Between 37,000 and 41,000 people were living with HIV in 2014 in the country, out of a total population of about eight million
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pacific Island Nations

India, PNG cooperation in oil and gas sector

  1. Context: A two-day visit by President Pranab Mukherjee to Papua New Guinea
  2. What? India is looking to explore and develop Papua New Guinea’s vast oil and gas resources
  3. This will be through joint ventures and investments from both the Indian private and public sectors in ongoing and new projects
  4. This is important keeping in view India’s desire to achieve energy security
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pacific Island Nations

India to host meeting of 14 Pacific island nations

  1. India will host the heads of 14 island nations at the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC)
  2. Most of economies in the region are based on agriculture, fisheries and small-scale industries where India has considerable strength.
  3. India tries to check China which has significantly expanded its foothold in the region in terms of business, trade and diplomacy.
  4. India’s strong relations with Fiji, which has considerable influence in the region, could help counter the growing Chinese influence.

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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