Indian PM's Fiji trip aimed at countering China says expert
The visit by India's Prime Minister to Fiji next week is part of a grander plan to counter China's growing influence in the region, according to a South Asian politics and security expert.
The visit by India's Prime Minister to Fiji next week is part of a grander plan to counter China's growing influence in the region.
That's according to a South Asian politics and security expert Balaji Chandramohan who is in Fiji for the prime minister, Narendra Modi's visit.
He told Sally Round Mr Modi is expected to meet Pacific Island leaders during the historic trip, the first by an Indian prime minister since Indira Gandhi visited more than 30 years ago.
BALAJI CHANDRAMOHAN: India is not a Pacific power by geography but it has got its reach in this region through its diaspora and it's a fact that India uses its diaspora to advance its foreign policy objectives. But for that to happen especially in other countries, say for example Canada or the United States, it is the first generation or the second generation Indians who are there and they are very much connected to India through their families and through their networks but in Fiji there is distance between the Indo Fijians and those in India. For that connect to happen I think the Indian government has to reach out even further. This includes at the diplomatic level in Fiji, of course expanding the High Commission, second the scholarship facilities that could be offered for the Indian people (in Fiji) to come to India and to study but that has been somewhat lacking. Fiji would also look to India for skilled immigration. Fiji's a country which lacks skilled labour for its economic advancement especially in areas like hospitality, medicine and information technology. India is far advanced in terms of technology.
SALLY ROUND: From a geopolitical perspective what are India's interests in Fiji and in the South Pacific?
BC: The fact of the matter is India's other Asian competitor China is expanding its presence in the South Pacific through its maritime, naval capabilities. India, too, has its own vision of expanding its naval presence. India's Eastern Fleet has its operations through the Straits of Malacca but not to this region so far. For that to happen India should have co-operation with other maritime powers in the region which include the United States, Australia and New Zealand. It has somewhat got stuck in the southwest Pacific. Whereas you see China's maritime strategy is based on the three island chain strategies. What India would like to do is expand its maritime capabilities or to have some sort of an understanding with countries including Fiji to have its military presence in this region, maybe which includes having its military presence in one of the islands of Fiji or in any of the South Pacific countries which would be comfortable with such an idea.
SR: Why in particular is India interested in expanding its naval presence?
BC: India's expanding naval presence is in keeping with the view that there is a need for it to have sea lanes of communication for its population. (It is) because of the fact that India feels threatened by China's expanding presence in this Indo-Pacific region and for the fact that the other powers in the region, the United States, has its military commitments in the other parts of the world, and for the fact that Australia and some of the countries like Indonesia will not be in a position to challenge China's expanding maritime profile. It seems obvious for India to have its expanding maritime region in a way which will help both its economic, military and diplomatic outreach in this region by choosing Fiji as one of their springboards for that and because of the fact that the newly elected (Fiji) government is a democratic government and India has helped that democratic transition to happen. So the fact that India has got a diaspora there India feels there is a chance for it to use that leverage for its expanding naval presence or maritime presence in the South Pacific region.
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