By ANA VURU
Indian media have talked up a visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a success, just a day after a whirlwind 15-hour visit to Suva where he held bilateral talks and signed MOUs with his Fijian and Pacific counterparts.
This comes as Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Nadi today for a three-day meeting, where he will also meet Pacific leaders.
A report in the Times of India said PM Modi wooed Fiji and Pacific nations and particularly “reached out to Fiji, trying to make up for the three-decade-long indifference towards the south Pacific nation, which is home to a big population of ethnic Indians and is of strategic importance because of its location.
“In what was the first visit by an Indian PM to Fiji since Indira Gandhi in 1981, Modi announced a $75 million line of credit for FIj’s sugar industry. The assistance, which is significant because of Fiji’s small size, came just days before Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the nation.”
Mr Modi himself set he tone with his vision for the future of Fiji-India ties.
“Fiji could serve as a hub for stronger Indian engagement with Pacific islands. I see this visit as an opportunity to renew an old relationship and lay the foundation for a strong partnership in the future,” he said during a joint appearance with his Fijian counterpart Voreqe Bainimarama.
During his meeting with Mr Bainimarama, Mr Modi sought greater security and defence co-operation with Fiji and announced a visa on arrival for Fijians and assistance projects that included a parliament library and doubling the scholarships and training slots in India for Fijians.
During Mr Modi’s historic address to the Fijian parliament, the first by a foreign leader after parliamentary elections, he said India was prepared to work with Fiji to build a ‘Digital Fiji’. The line of credit included $70 million for a co-generation power plant at Rarawai sugar mill and $5 million to strengthen and modernise Fiji’s village, small and medium scale industries.
“I regard Fiji as an important partner for India. We have deep and enduring ties of history and culture. Fiji is an influential voice in the Pacific region and the developing world, and our partner in multilateral institutions,” Modi said at his joint press interaction.
Reciprocating Modi’s sentiments, Bainimarama said the Indian PM’s visit had laid the groundwork for “productive relationship” between the two countries.
However, with Mr Xi’s arrival today, regional experts are saying this is all part of a bid to woo one of the biggest voting blocs within the United Nations.
A University of the South Pacific academic believes a central issue of the talks will be climate change, where low-lying Pacific islands would welcome assistance.
“China and India, they are not just global political and economic powers, but they are contributors to the problem of climate change and the Pacific Island countries are at the receiving end of climate change but do not necessarily contribute to it,” said Dr Sandra Tarte, director of the USP’s politics and international affairs programme.
“In the past there has been this deadlock between developed countries and these so-called developing countries on how to approach the issue and whether or not countries like China and India need to make concessions.”
But, Dr Tarte did not see India expanding its presence in the South Pacific to the same extent as China.
“India doesn’t have the same reach as China does, diplomatic reach. It’s economic ties are not that expansive or as developed,” she said.
Mr Modi is back home in New Delhi after a 10-day three-nation visit.