Thursday, October 22, 2015

Expert Comment: Cleo's Chatham House analysis of Canada's new government

Trudeau Election Marks New Start for Canada by Cleo Paskal

"The Liberal Party likes to think of itself as ‘Canada’s natural governing party’. Though they have been out of power for 10 years, and newly elected prime minister Justin Trudeau is relatively inexperienced, the party has deep and old networks across the country. The backroom is full of experienced old hands, including former prime ministers who have known Trudeau since he was a toddler. With a number of bold shifts promised in Canadian foreign policy, and a willingness to be fiscally expansive (Trudeau has said he is willing to run deficits for three years to implement their policies), the change is likely to be dramatic, fast and unrelenting."

To read the full analysis, including possible changes to energy and climate policy, and the implications of the growing role of First Nations in resource management please click here

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Interview: Cleo on John Batchelor Show with Gordon Chang talking about Xi's visit to UK and more

Cleo Paskal joined John Batchelor and Gordon Chang to discuss the implications of Chinese President Xi's visit to the UK, as well as what Canada's new government might mean for Canada-China relations.

You can hear the interview by clicking here

Monday, October 19, 2015

Interview: Cleo Paskal on Background Briefing with Ian Masters talking about the background to Canada's election

"We begin with the elections today in Canada that will decide whether incumbent Prime Minister Stephen Harper will get a fourth term or whether Justin Trudeau, the son of a former prime minister will lead his Liberal Party to victory ending a ten year stretch of conservative rule in Canada."

To hear the interview, click here.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Policy Paper: Modi-fied Engagement: Will India's Reinvigorated Foreign Policy Change History?

Cleo Paskal has published a policy paper reviewing Indian Prime Minister Modi's foreign policy to date. Released by Le Centre d'études et de recherches internationales (CÉRIUM) de l'Université de Montréal and the Pôle de recherche sur l'Inde et l'Asie du Sud (PRIAS), the paper is available in English. 

The summary is below, and the whole paper can be found here.


In this time of shifting multipolarity, the reawakening of India has the potential to shape the global future. Since the election of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2014, policy makers around the world have watched with interest, anticipation and/or concern to see what, if anything, would change in India’s previously lackluster foreign policy. Would it prove to be a global civilizational power? Would it be bogged down in regional conflicts? Would it offer a ‘third option’ for partners looking for engagement that is neither reliant on the West nor China?

There is enormous potential in India. While it has unquestionable domestic challenges, it is also fundamentally democratic, with a fast growing middle class, increasing formal education levels, an expanding English-speaking population with deepening access to the global economy, and a vast domestic market that can partially insulate the country from global economic shocks.

However, for decades (punctuated by brief exceptional periods), there has been a phalanx of impediments slowing India’s domestic recovery and, by extension, its options for global engagement. These include: corruption, ineffective economic policies, a barely post-colonial legal system, lack of political vision and drive, and a complacent, or at best, unmotivated civil service.

Modi was elected on a platform of tackling those challenges. His stated goal of achieving 10% annual growth combined with social policies to tend to the needs of the ‘last man in line’ is contingent on reinvigorating India’s economy. Reinvigorating the economy means not only handling those domestic issues, but also encouraging foreign investors to ‘Make in India’. Accordingly, foreign relations that encourage trade and investment have been one of Modi’s key priorities, and initiatives are very much led from the top.

Modi has been here before. He proved adept at handling foreign relations during his more than a decade as Chief Minister of the Indian state of Gujarat (2001-2014). While denied a United States (US) visa in 2005, he continued to foster relations with the Indo-American Diaspora. Meanwhile, he worked with, among others, Japanese, German, Chinese and Israeli firms to develop Gujarat’s infrastructure, renewable energy, agriculture and tech sectors. He showed himself to be pragmatic and non-dogmatic about partners, focusing primarily on what he thought would be good for his state.

The question is whether that approach can be scaled up to the national level. So far, the results have been mixed. There have been some marked accomplishments, starting with the unprecedented attendance of almost all the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) leaders at Modi’s swearing in. Modi’s triumphant visit to the US in September 2014 was soon reciprocated by a visit to India by President Obama in January 2015. His visit to Canada (the first bilateral visit by an Indian Prime Minster since 1973) resulted in important agreements regarding uranium sales and cooperation on the fight against terrorism.

There are lingering concerns, however, about whether the headline grabbing visits can evolve into long-term gains for India. The success of Modi’s personal drive for increased engagement depends in large part on effective follow-up. Bureaucratic support (or at least lack of obstruction) is necessary to unlock the engagement potential of wider India, including the business sector and civil society. So far, that facilitation has been somewhat hit and miss. The reasons for the
impediments are varied. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs is comparatively understaffed, something Modi has tried to rectify by introducing the use of external experts drawn from academia, think tanks, and elsewhere. More problematic are those in the civil service keen on protecting their previously powerful and privileged positions and, in the worst cases, those engaged in active sabotage to cover past, or ongoing, misdeeds.

Many in the region, and beyond, want to see a stronger, prosperous and stable India. What would be good for India would also be good for most of its neighbors including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and others. Their stability and economies are tied to India’s. It would also be good for those looking for a supplement, if not an alternative, to increased Chinese engagement.

Many around the world are ‘waiting for India’. As, indeed, are Indians. After just sixteen months in office Modi’s much-needed re-creation of Indian foreign policy is still very much a work in progress.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Interview: Cleo Paskal on Background Briefing with Ian Masters talking about India's PM Modi's foreign policy

From Ian Master: "Then we go to London to speak with a specialist on India, Cleo Paskal, who is a visiting Trudeau Fellow at the University of Montreal’s Center for International Studies and a Fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, London. We discuss India’s Prime Minister Modi’s remarks to the U.N. today that were preceded by a trip to the Silicon Valley where Modi pushed his “Digital India” project and met with the leaders of the giant tech companies, many of which are headed by Indians or Indian Americans."

To hear the interview, click here.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Interview: Cleo on the John Batchelor Show with Gordon Chang talking about Modi's foreign policy

Cleo Joined John Batchelor and Gordon Chang to talk about Indian Prime Minster's Modi's evolving foreign policy in the lead up to Modi's visit to the US.  You can hear the interview here.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Cleo Paskal Awarded 2015 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Visiting Fellowship

Cleo was awarded a prestigious Trudeau Visiting Fellowship. The Fellowship will help fund a 2-3 year research project into geopolitical, geoeconomic and geophysical changes (including effects of climate change, etc.) in the Indo-Pacific. In conjunction with the Fellowship, Cleo has been appointed a Visiting Trudeau Fellow at the Montreal Centre for International Studies (CÉRIUM) at the Université de Montréal.

For more on the Fellowship, click here.

For more on the CÉRIUM appointment, click here.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Interview: Cleo on John Batchelor Show Talking about India - South Pacific Leaders Summit and Shifting Geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific

Cleo Joins Gordon Chang and John Batchelor on the John Batchelor Show to talk about the India - South Pacific leaders summit and shifting geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific.

You can hear it here

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Article: Act East, engage Pacific Island Countries (Sunday Guardian)

CLEO PASKAL  Manipal | 15th Aug 2015

Their Imperial Highnesses the Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako of Japan in the Kingdom of Tonga, South Pacific, in July, greet the newly crowned King and Queen of Tonga. India didn’t send any representatives.
rime Minister Narendra Modi will meet with representatives from the 14 Pacific Island Countries (PICs) in Jaipur on 21 August. Part of India's reinvigorated foreign policy, this will be an important opportunity to show that India is serious about building a comprehensive, long-term "Act East" policy.
The engagement with the PICs started off extremely well. For the first time since Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister Modi made a point of visiting Fiji in 2014, and meeting with leaders from the region.
The visit was an acknowledgement of the already large and growing importance of the region. Covering almost 1/6th of the planet's surface, the countries of the Pacific aren't small island states as much as large ocean territories, with vast exclusive economic zones, increasing strategic importance, major untapped resources and 14 critical votes in international fora.
The PICs' value as partners is an open secret. For decades, both Australia and New Zealand have justified their position on the world stage by claiming they can "deliver" the PICs. However many of the PICs are becoming disenchanted with those "traditional partnerships".
For example, most recently, the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea made a statement clearly targeted at Australia. He said that after 1 January 2016, he would no longer allow foreign advisors in the government, in part because he was concerned they were spying, and not acting in the best interest of PNG. Similar feelings can be found across the PICs, and came into the open after Edward Snowden revealed that New Zealand intelligence was operating a "full take" policy on every Pacific nation it could, intercepting all calls, texts, emails, etc.
In a parallel to developments in Africa and elsewhere, this discontent has been identified as an opportunity by China.
China has been heavily involved in the region for well over a decade. There are the usual loans and infrastructure, but also the military-to-military engagement, leasing satellite slots, setting up a spy station, and discussing building ports. While India is playing catch-up in the South China Sea, China is trying to surround and consolidate by locking up influence in the vast area between Asia and South America.
And it isn't just China. Abu Dhabi used the help of the PICs to get the headquarters for IRENA. Dubai worked with them to win as hosts of the 2020 Expo.
In spite of almost all the PICs being stable, democratic, well educated (many with close to 100% literacy), and English speaking — all things that should have been a natural bond between India and the region — India has been very slow off the mark.
India has a range of institutional impediments slowing it down. For a start, India has only two high commissions in the 14 PICs. One is in Fiji, because of the Indian diaspora, the other in Papua New Guinea, because of resources and trade.
India representation in the rest of the 12 PICs is fragmented. The Indian mission in Fiji is accredited to Tonga, Tuvalu, Nauru, and Cook Islands. The mission in Papua New Guinea is accredited to Vanuatu and Solomon Islands. The Indian mission in New Zealand is accredited to Kiribati, Samoa, and Niue. The mission in the Philippines is accredited to Palau, Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia. The mission in France covers French Polynesia and other French possessions in the region. The mission in Washington covers American Samoa and other US possessions in the region.
This means a cohesive policy (or even an understanding of the region) would mean coordinating half-a-dozen missions, four of which have much larger primary responsibilities. As a result, there are very few PIC experts in the MEA.
It is not uncommon to hear members of the diplomatic service say they would like to visit the PICs because of the tropical islands, warm waters and beaches. It sounds like a tourist from Detroit saying they've been on a houseboat in the backwaters near Kochi and so know all about Kerala politics. The listening posts, strategic ports, banks, mining operations, military bases, etc., seem to be invisible. These are real countries, not postcards.
A report in the Business Standard last week quoted one government official as saying that India provides annual grants-in-aid of $200,000 to every PIC: "The amount is enough for them, as they are not big countries."
Throwing pennies to what you imply are beggars is not the best way to build friendships. Nor is it accurate. PNG, for one, has a GDP of over $16 billion and a projected growth rate of 15% for the year. Additionally, India's $200,000 is nothing compared to, for example, the $11.7 million China just gave Tonga for a new government building.
Also, size is no indication of importance. One of the most important events in the region took place in the Kingdom of Tonga (population 100,000) in July: the coronation of a new king and queen. Tonga, never colonised, is the last surviving PIC kingdom, and the royal family of Tonga has deep, ancient connections throughout the region, and to royal houses around the world.
Attending the event were heads of states and traditional leaders from across the PICs, as well as a range of nobility from Europe, including the Archduke of the House of Habsburgs, Baron Glenarthur from the UK and the Crown Prince and Princess of Japan. As an indication of the strong relationship between "tiny" Tonga and Japan, it was only the second time in decade that the Crown Princess has left Japan on an official visit.
Rather than sending someone from Delhi, India was represented by someone from the regional diplomatic corps, meaning it was not invited to the closed events attended by the VVIP visitors. If it had, it would have been an opportunity to show not just the region, but London, Tokyo and others that India is serious about its role in the Pacific.
Clearly, someone in the MEA thought size matters, and missed the opportunity of a generation. Perhaps coincidentally, Tonga won't be sending its head of state or government to Jaipur.
Another fallacy echoed by the government source is that the PICs want handouts. Actually, they really don't want aid, they want trade, and real partnership. Their goods are often blocked from the markets of Australia and New Zealand on spurious grounds, while the same countries dump overpriced goods across the region.
So for many shoppers in the region, the choice is expensive western goods, or suspect cheap Chinese products. A paracetamol in Tonga costs eight times what it does in India. The average car in Tonga is a 10-year-old Japanese, which sells for twice the amount as a new Tata Nano.
Pacific islanders are buying paracetamols and cars, and sending their kids abroad for university, and healthcare. If India wants to make real friends, it should help in the sectors that can increase the region's connectivity, and so broaden its options in deciding its own future. In particular, transport, communications (including tele-education and healthcare) and energy.
Want to pull the region closer to India? Weekly direct flights to Fiji; Indian mobile companies entering the markets to compete with overpriced monopolies; Indian wind and solar tech.
It also means developing real Indian experts on the PICs. For decades, India has taken the lead on many Pacific issues, including Fiji, from Canberra and Wellington. Or worse, been led by an ethnocentric approach to the region.
One of the inspiring aspects of Prime Minister Modi's win was that it showed India valued skill, hard work, and heart over family background. Unfortunately, in the PICs, the impression is that India is only interested in ethnic Indo-Fijians. This poses a few challenges to a true partnership with the PICs.
The first is a logical inconsistency. The argument for Indo-Fijian rights is that they are as Fijian as everyone else. However, by singling them out, India is implying they still have strong ties to India. So is India saying they are just like all other Fijians, or is India saying they have a dual identity? Everyone understands the natural warmth towards distant "relations", especially the family-oriented PICs. It just may not be the best thing to base a foreign policy on.
Maybe India could fight for the rights of all Fijians, irrespective of background, not just the ones that look like someone from back home; otherwise it is undermining the position that Indo-Fijians are fundamentally Fijian.
Second, by so heavily focusing on the Indo-Fijians, India is picking up baggage it may not want to carry. For example, just this last week, a couple of dozen Fijians were arrested for sedition for allegedly attempting to create a breakaway Christian state.
It doesn't seem to be primarily a response to Hindu Indo-Fijians, but rather flamed by concerns over perceived growing Wahhabi influences coming in partially via the Muslim Indo-Fijian community. Real or not, the perception is there. And the nation of India risks being conflated with various conspiracy theories, unless it does what the Modi-era promised: build respect-based, lasting, non-corrupt, international partnerships for a stable, mutually beneficial future.
Cleo Paskal is Adjunct Faculty, Department of Geopolitics, Manipal University.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Cleo is one of the Climate 25 (Weather Channel)

Cleo was honoured to be part of the Weather Channel's Climate 25 project. You can see her interview here

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Interview: Cleo on the John Batchelor Show Talking About Modi One Year On

Cleo Joined John Batchelor and Gordon Chang to talk about Indian foreign policy after PM Modi's first year in office.

You can hear it here.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Interview: Cleo on Background Briefing with Ian Masters talking about Climate Change and Geopolitics in the Pacific

"We begin with the worst cyclone or hurricane in the history of the Pacific which struck the island chain of Vanuatu with winds up to 180 miles per hour. Cleo Paskal, a Fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, London, and author of “Global Warring: How Environmental, Economic, and Political Crises Will Redraw the World Map”, joins us from the Pacific island of Tonga to discuss the impact of global warming on the tiny island nations of the Pacific, and the roles of regional powers New Zealand and Australia who are coming to the aid of Vanuatu, as well as the growing influence of China in the region."

You can hear the interview here.  

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Interview: John Batchelor Show With Gordon Chang

Cleo Joins Gordon Chang and John Batchelor on the John Batchelor Show to talk about the elections in Sri Lanka and what it might mean for regional relations.

You can hear it here. The segment starts around 10.30. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Article: World leaders look for new ideas at conclave (Sunday Guardian)

CLEO PASKAL  Goa | 10th Jan 2015
Participants at the India Ideas Conclave: former Prime Minister of Jordan Abdelsalam al-Majali, former Belgian Head of State Anne-Marie Lizin, former Prime Minister of Slovenia Alojz Peterle, India’s Union Minister of State for Finance Jayant Sinha, for
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's declared vision is "new thinking, new hope". In late December, as part of the search for new ideas, the India Foundation, a think tank with close ties to the new government, hosted the first India Ideas Conclave in cooperation with the government of Goa.
The range of invitees consisted of a wide cross-section of informed input. The speakers included Former Prime Ministers of Bhutan, Jordan, Netherlands, and Slovenia; former heads of state of Belgium and Lithuania; the Sikyong (equivalent of Prime Minister) of the Tibetan Government in Exile; the former secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation; US Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard; and Indian Ministers of External Affairs, Defence, Railways, Finance, and Power.
The approach and the range of ideas discussed give insight into the challenges and promise of this era of change. For example, an oft-repeated message was that many countries in the region want India to play a larger role. This is a now common theme. There is desire regionally, and in some places globally, for engagement with a major power that is not pro-economic policies that are considered damaging to local economies, and are not China.
High-level representatives from both Bhutan and Sri Lanka pointed out that India's economic health was of great importance to the region, and when India's economy grows by 3%, theirs grow by 2%.
Former Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigme Thinley said that with Modi's arrival a "wind of optimism" was sweeping across the region. He spoke of the inevitability of the leadership role of India in the region, adding, "Large countries only become great countries when they have good relations with smaller neighbours... if even the smallest countries find more security within the EU, why can't South Asia be the same?"
The former Prime Minister then asked the room to imagine a South Asian Commonwealth, with full economic integration, adding, "I will even go so far as to suggest shared regional security arrangements, including for natural calamities". He suggested that the first step be to create and promote cooperation within region, then work on relations with others, including China.
Former Sri Lankan Ambassador to India (currently Sri Lanka's Ambassador to Washington) Prasad Kariyawasam echoed the analysis, saying India and Sri Lanka's "destinies are intertwined". Noting that Pakistan would block any proposed South Asia economic union, he proposed following Modi's "let's move at a pace everyone is comfortable with" policy, and begin with an eastern economic union including Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Ambassador Kariyawasam also called for more cooperative solutions in maritime and cyber security, and a need for people-centric collective security. He added that "the region remains hostage to colonial interpretation of what divides us, rather than what unites us" and said it was important "to step back to our roots to find traditional strengths of harmony, inclusivity is an ancient part of the South Asian value system". He evoked Sri Lanka's deep Buddhist ties to India, and called for a closer spiritual union.
The cultural and spiritual importance of India in the region was also highlighted by Ambassador O. Nyamdavaa, the former Mongolian Ambassador to Delhi. He chronicled the extensive and ancient ties between Mongolia and India, adding, "India is very important for Mongolia. Indians are our brothers and sisters in dharma." He called for a new role for India in the development of "Buddhism for peace in the world", and proposed India to take a greater role in cultural development in the region.
Delegates from further afield made their own cases for more Indian attention, with European delegates saying that India and Europe should focus on technology transfer and cooperation, US delegates saying now is the time to engage with Washington, and Professor H.K. Chang saying that if China and India can work together, the Asian Century will arise. If they can't, it won't.
Many made an effort to show an understanding of some of India's priorities. Former Slovenian Prime Minister Alojz Peterle said there was no need to innovate dharma, and economic growth could be sustainable if it was dharma based. He also called for a fundamental rethinking of global governance, saying "we can't play the same game with different cards", and calling for a shift from alliances to true partnerships.
Echoing that, German European Member of Parliament Jo Leinen said the World Bank and IMF do not reflect today's world, and certainly not tomorrow's world, and called for UN reform. Former Lithuanian head of state Vytautas Landsbergis quoted Rabindranath Tagore.
On the India delegates' side, there was a wide range of proposals. Former Union Cabinet Minister and Harvard Professor Dr Subramanian Swamy noted that India's high interest rates were primarily benefitting foreigners who were borrowing in the West and lending in India. He proposed interest rates to be maxed at 10%, and the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India be sacked. He also called for a national water grid.
The vice chancellor of Delhi University, Professor Dinesh Singh, noted that Indian mathematics was highly advanced 5,000 years ago.
In reference to the need for innovation, Vallabh Bhansali of Enam Securities made a plea to Indian parents: "please let your children join start-ups".
The vice chancellor of Delhi University, Professor Dinesh Singh, noted that Indian mathematics was highly advanced 5,000 years ago. Part of the reason for this, he said, was that (part of what is now) India was a maritime power that needed and encouraged constant technological innovation. India's scientific decline, he said, was tied to "Indian technology unlinking from knowledge ecosystems". He called for a reintegration of Indian technological innovation with societal, political and economic need.
The Indian government ministers listened to all ideas, took notes, took questions, and — speaking as individuals not as government representatives — openly explained their own priorities and constraints. Minister of State for Finance, Jayant Sinha, said, "We need to come up with the next generation of capitalism. The only way is by entrepreneurship and innovation. We can't follow the China model — it is very destructive to the environment, and forced. We need a unique Indian model."
But he was clear that this wasn't going to be a revisiting of the Central planning model. "We've had the state as a player on the field, when in fact it should be the umpire. My job is to get you to do it, I can't do it". And then came an idea: "Maybe what we need is a Grand Challenge on solving key problems for India."
The Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Power, Coal and New and Renewable Energy, Piyush Goyal, was aware of India's need for power. He said, given current low oil prices, he was willing to sign five-year contracts immediately, but no one was willing to offer at a reasonable price. "Getting energy to the people, etc., is nothing extraordinary. It is something government is supposed to do. One would have imagined India would have planned for energy security many years ago. But when I took office, I found we were literally living on a day-to-day basis."
He said he thought he could cease thermal coal imports in 2-3 years, but coking coal would be more of a challenge. He added that he was certainly not closed to nuclear power, but needed to look at lifecycle costs and public sentiment. In the interim, renewables could help rural areas with off-grid and micro-grid solutions so at least people would have lights, phone charge, etc. now.
Minister of Railways, Suresh Prabhu, one of the main drivers behind the Conclave, summed up the impetus for the search for new ideas with: "If something has been de-formed, it should be re-formed".
There is no question that decades of dubious policies and corruption have affected the health of the Indian body politic. The Government of India is looking for ideas, from the deep past, from the neighbours, from new sources, from the soul.
The Conclave was one small part of the ongoing process — many key people weren't there. But the search for ideas continues. It will be difficult, there will be mistakes, and there will be detractors. Many benefited from the way things were. And many are concerned about who will benefit from any change.
Many are watching closely. As the former Prime Minister of Bhutan said at the Conclave, "When India sneezes, her neighbours catch cold". The question is, with the right ideas, will it be possible for India to smile, so her neighbours can laugh?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Interview: Cleo Paskal joins Gordon Chang on the John Batchelor Show to talk about China and environmental change

Cleo Joins Gordon Chang and John Batchelor on the John Batchelor Show to talk about environmental change in the Himalayas, in particular Tibet, and what it might mean for China and India.

You can hear it here. The segment starts around 11.00. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Article: India, Fiji ties can go beyond diaspora (Sunady Guardian)

CLEO PASKAL  Manipal | 15th Nov 2014
An Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) map of the Pacific.
rime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Fiji makes sense for reasons that extend far beyond outreach to the diaspora. Fiji is an important nation in the constellation of the 14 states that are known as the Pacific Island Countries (PICs). These include the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, the Kingdom of Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.
Each of these countries has a vote in international fora. As a voting bloc, they are proving increasingly important. Additionally, they are often considered "small countries" due to their relatively small populations and landmass. However, given that every small island can claim a minimum 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone, these are actually very large ocean territories. The Republic of Kiribati, for example, may only have 100,000 in population, but it has an exclusive economic zone the size of India. Not only does Kiribati's zone potentially contain myriad natural resources, it is also strategically located. So much so that China tried to establish a base there to monitor US activity in the region.
China has recognised the value of the PICs and has taken advantage of regional disenchantment with the traditional partners Australia and New Zealand to establish a strong economic, and in some cases demographic and strategic, beachhead. For example, Australia and New Zealand's international drive to isolate Fiji following the 2006 coup pushed Fiji closer to China, and today Beijing is one of Fiji's major allies. Just two days after Modi holds his meetings in Fiji, Chinese President Xi Jinping will be in Fiji holding his own mini-summit for PIC leaders.
In many cases, the turn towards China was not by choice, it was out of economic desperation. And India would be a welcome new multidimensional partner in the region. The countries of the region don't want aid, they want trade. And there are many sectors in which India can offer partnerships no one else can. These include:
Currently, communication costs in the PICs are some of the highest in the world, in many cases for no apparent technical reason. In most markets, there are very few providers and it can almost seem as if there is collusion in pricing. Established Indian telecoms are likely to be able to provide much lower cost services — something that would help unleash the PIC economies as a whole, as they could then take advantage of e-economies.
Renewable energy is going in across the region, but the installations tend to be high cost Western style projects that may not be the best use of resources. The sort of innovative, comprehensive solutions developed in Gujarat, for example, combining irrigation, solar and agricultural shifts would help the PICs get their infrastructure right from the start, instead of having to consistently try to patch up mismatched and/or inappropriate systems.
Sanitation in many of the PICs is based on a Western flush model, which may not always be the most appropriate for the soil, water and temperature condition. And in many cases, especially in the outer islands, these technologies are simply not viable because of lack of energy and infrastructure, and so no solutions are provided. For example, currently, the World Bank is building houses on the Tongan islands of Ha'apai with no kitchen or sanitation facilities at all. The innovative and low cost solutions offered by organisations like Sulabh are largely unknown and would be very welcome in the region.
Given that most PICs speak English, and are currently acquiring a high-level of tertiary education, can often mean taking out ruinous loans to go to Australia or New Zealand. E-educational linkages with Indian institutions would quickly create a new generation of PIC professionals.
A Maori waka bears striking similarty to a Kerala snake boat.
Currently, most pharmaceuticals in the PICs are either expensive Western products or cheap Chinese supplies. There have been proven quality problems with the Chinese drugs. Affordable, trusted Indian pharmaceuticals would be a very welcome entrant to the market. The same is true for medical equipment. Currently, people are dying across the Pacific because entire countries don't have access to things like dialysis machines. And, of course, e-medicine link-ups with Indian specialists would save the PICs money and, more importantly, lives.
Conversely, there are regional medical discoveries that Indian pharmaceutical companies might like to research for co-development. For example, the root of the kava plant is an effective and safe anti-anxiety medication. Pacific islanders have been using it for millennia. However, it is a threat to established and lucrative anti-depressants. Perhaps coincidentally, some Western countries have tried to have this low cost alternative banned based on toxicity tests that used the wrong part of the plant. Testing, and if warranted, product development, by Indian labs could resolve this issue once and for all. And kava is only one of many traditional medical innovations in the Pacific. The PICs are already spending money on telecoms, sanitation, energy, education, medicine and much more. In many cases, they are just either paying too much, or are getting subpar quality. There is a definite role for India, and Indian business, in the Pacific. This is not charity; this is trade that is good for both sides.
Indian companies are not looking at these markets because they think they are too small, but, as an aggregate, they are sizeable. India can take the lessons learned from having successfully developed the similar "village economics" and apply them abroad. One facilitation option is the establishment of a Micromarket Chamber of Commerce to help Indian businesses and innovators develop these partnerships (and similar opportunities in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean, rural Africa and Latin America).
However, for the partnership to work, it would need direct bilateral contact points in each of the PICs, and not be run through middlemen in Fiji, who would raise the end cost and carry their own baggage into the relationship, potentially torpedoing any advantage for the PICs. The bilateral structure might take longer to set up, but it would be infinitely more stable and could add to eventual diplomatic and strategic ties — something that can't be handled via Fiji (China, for example, has major embassies in each of the countries it deals with in the Pacific).
The PICs welcome India as a new partner in the region (and some even recognise it as a very old friend — by, for example, pointing out the similarities between Kerala snake boats and Maori wakas). Any healthy relationship must be based on mutual respect and understanding.
Visiting Fiji is an excellent first step. The next step is to show the PICs that this is about more than just the diaspora — and that India's hand of friendship is there for all to grasp.