On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a meeting with two summits, the India-Caribbean (CARICOM) Island Summit and the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC) on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly (2019). India is trying to expand its global footprint through engagements with nations at the bilateral and multilateral levels and through regional and international platforms. The CARICOM and FIPIC allow India to strengthen its relations with the region on areas of larger convergences and resolve differences if any. They also provide the space to pursue bilateral and multilateral relations based on mutual interests.
As the Caribbean nations look beyond their traditional ties, to North America and Europe, to other regions and nations, India is taking this opportunity to raise its profile in the region. India’s relations with the Caribbean nations have been reinforced by the CARICOM- the Caribbean community of nations that has encouraging common policy and economic goals for the region.
In giving this relation to new momentum, Prime Minister Modi met with the 14 leaders of the CARICOM. It was the first-ever meeting of Prime Minister Modi with CARICOM leaders in a regional format and highlighted the steadily intensifying and deepening relations between India and partner countries of the Caribbean, not only in the bilateral but also in the regional context. The meeting deliberated on means to strengthen the existing political and institutional dialogue processes, boost economic cooperation, increase trade and investment opportunities and foster robust people- to- people relations.
In keeping with India’s developmental support for the region, Prime Minister Modi also laid emphasis on partnering with CARICOM countries in capacity building, development assistance and cooperation in disaster management and resilience. He announced a USD 14 million grant for community development projects in the CARICOM and USD 150 million Line of Credit for solar, renewable energy and climate- change related projects.1 In an effort to further strengthen cooperation Prime Minister Modi extended an invitation to a CARICOM parliamentary delegation to visit India. The need to establish contact beyond just the government officials to other members of parliament and through them to the state governments is allowing greater interactions and sharing of ideas. It provides smaller states better opportunities to tie on projects that are of similar scale and interest rather than focus on national level engagements.
India and the CARICOM are also engaged with each other through the BRICS, where the CARICOM is exploring investment and trade opportunities to further the diversification of its economic relations. Of mutual interest to the BRICS and CARICOM is the need to reform the global economic and political order to take into account their specific needs. For India, relations with the CARICOM at a multilateral platform and bi-lateral relations with the countries of the region allow for opportunities for achieving their development goals and objectives. CARICOM and India can explore the possibility of exploring each other to deepen their relations in their respective regions. CARICOM has extensive outreach with Latin America, a region that India is focusing on and India provides the CARICOM nations the space to engage with other nations of South Asia.
As India looks at the development of a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific, it is looking at the island nations of the pacific region to operationalise the concept while strengthening its engagement with the island nations through the Act East Policy. India’s relationship with the Pacific Island nations has deepened with the establishment of the FIPIC. [The first and second meetings of the FIPIC took place in Fiji (2015) and Jaipur (2016).] The recent meeting between Prime Minister Modi and the leaders of the India-Pacific Islands Developing States (PSIDS) at New York (2019) was with a view to building close partnership with the Pacific Island nations and work closely to advance mutually beneficial developmental goals. In keeping with India’s focus on providing developmental assistance based on the requirements as stated by the receiving country, Prime Minister Modi announced the allocation of USD 12 million grant (USD 1 million to each PSIDS) towards the implementation of high impact developmental project in the area of their choice. In addition, a concessional Line of Credit of USD 150 million which can be availed by the PSIDS for undertaking solar, renewable energy and climate-related projects based on each country’s requirement was also announced. Prime Minister Modi extended an invitation to all the leaders for the 3rd FIPIC Summit to be held in Port Moresby in first half of 2020 to continue the high level engagement and keep the momentum going.2
India’s outreach to the Pacific Island nations is being shaped by various geostrategic factors. The geographical location, at the centre of important sea routes of trade, makes it crucial for India to deepen its engagement here. The role of other regional powers such as China, Japan and the United States has raised the strategic and economic significance of the region.
India and the nations of the region share similar concerns on the issue of climate change. The recent report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated that if climate change is not arrested the rise in sea levels would devastate coastal cities, small island nations, Arctic communities and marine ecology and habitat. For India, the report warns of the devastation of two its mega-cities-Mumbai and Kolkata, the threat to the island nations of the pacific are more pronounced. This is an agenda point that it shares with the CARICOM nations as well.
India is looking at the CARICOM and the FIPIC as partners in pursuing mutually beneficial policies to address global climate change, working to address food security needs that arise as a result of climate change, development of eco-sensitive tourism development of renewable energy, sustainable utilisation of ocean resources and development of blue economy and capacity building for disaster management and relief and rescues operations. The long term goal is to exchange ideas that would facilitate and substantiate the relations of the future. This could be achieved through various means such as by addressing the needs of the young generation through collaboration in the education sector especially in the information, science and technology sector, healthcare and as well as building ecosystems to encourage the development of start-ups and build an entrepreneurial culture. As they battle issues of mutual concern, India and the CARICOM and FIPIC have found that they can help develop a view of international politics that takes into account their unique experiences and expertise and is not always guided by the needs of the more powerful nations.
While the island nations of, both, the Caribbean and the Pacific region are small, they have considerable economic, political and strategic significance for India. The economies of these nations are improving and they look towards a demographic change, providing India with new economic opportunities. Strengthening the engagements with the island nations would open new opportunities for exchange of ideas, knowledge and information for cooperation and to address challenges.
1 Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, “Prime Minister met with the leaders of CARICOM at the UNGA,” Accessed on 10 October 2019, https://mea.gov.in/press-releases.htm?dtl/31862/Prime_Minister_met_with_the_leaders_of_CARICOM_at_the_UNGA
2 Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, “Prime Minister meets Pacific Island Leaders,” Accessed on 10 October 2019, https://mea.gov.in/press-releases.htm?dtl/31854/Prime_Minister_meets_Pacific_Island_Leaders1