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Pacific Islands capture India’s strategic focus

NEW DELHI : New Delhi is exploring the possibility of trilateral cooperation with France and Australia in the strategic Pacific Islands, according to persons aware of the matter. While France and Australia have been key players in the Pacific Islands for some time, India has stepped up its outreach to these small island countries over the last decade.

The three countries launched their trilateral partnership forum in 2021, focused on the Indo-Pacific, with a focus on maritime development and connectivity. The three countries are expected to discuss concrete proposals during the third foreign minister level meeting of the grouping, for which preparations are ongoing.

The countries share “mutual concerns regarding the strategic, security, economic and environmental challenges in the Indo-Pacific region,” said the foreign ministers of the three countries in 2021.

They pledged to focus the trilateral partnership on climate change, disaster-resilient infrastructure, preventing illegal and unregulated fishing, among others.

Shoring up regional multilateral organizations like the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) was also marked out as a key focus for the three countries.

This development comes amid an increasing push from China to develop a stronger economic and security partnership with the islands, given their importance to the geopolitical competition brewing with America.

In 2022, China unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate a sweeping cooperation pact with Pacific Island countries.

India has also stepped up its diplomatic outreach. Prime Minister Narendra Modi became the first Indian PM to visit Papua New Guinea in May 2023 for the third Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC). New Delhi unveiled a 12-point action plan focused on healthcare, clean energy and cyberspace. India has positioned itself as a voice of the global south in recent years. Its outreach to these islands and advocacy of their interests fits well into New Delhi’s strategic ambitions.

France and Australia have seen China’s growing presence in the Pacific Islands with increased disquiet. While the three countries have laid out some broad interest areas, scholars at the Australian National University’s National Security College have made some specific recommendations for trilateral cooperation in the Pacific Islands in a report. Among them is a proposal to set up a trilateral disaster response mechanism to support regional countries. Protecting undersea internet cables, creating an independent scientific body focused on Indian Ocean challenges and joint surveillance to prevent illegal fishing were some other key recommendations.

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Updated: 25 Jul 2023, 10:16 PM IST

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