CHOGM chance to push In­dia as counter to China in the Pa­cific

The Australian - - WORLD - An­thony Ber­gin is se­nior an­a­lyst, Aus­tralian Strate­gic Pol­icy In­sti­tute and se­nior re­search fel­low, Aus­tralian Na­tional Uni­ver­sity ’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity Col­lege. AN­THONY BER­GIN

Mal­colm Turn­bull and For­eign Min­is­ter Julie Bishop will be in Lon­don to­mor­row for the Com­mon­wealth Heads of Gov­ern­ment sum­mit.

As part of their mis­sion they’ll be urg­ing Britain and other Com­mon­wealth na­tions to step up en­gage­ment in the Pa­cific amid con­cerns about the grow­ing in­flu­ence of China. This comes af­ter the con­struc­tion of a port in Van­u­atu fu­elled con­cerns about China’s abil­ity to ex­tend its naval power in the re­gion.

Over the past decade, China has es­tab­lished deep ties with the Pa­cific is­lands, in­clud­ing loans, grants, schol­ar­ships, and mil­i­tary en­gage­ment. As with many parts of the world, such as Africa, there’s ev­i­dence that China’s in­volve­ment in the Pa­cific is dam­ag­ing lo­cal economies. Chi­nese en­gage­ment is in­creas­ingly be­ing per­ceived as po­ten­tially over­whelm­ing and con­tain­ing un­known risks.

The one coun­try that could help­fully step up much more in the Pa­cific is In­dia. New Delhi is way un­der­done in the re­gion. But there’s now a real op­por­tu­nity to in­crease In­dia’s in­volve­ment to a re­vived Com­mon­wealth com­mit­ment in the Pa­cific. In­dia wouldn’t be di­rectly com­pet­ing with China, but rather work con­struc­tively with the is­lands to en­hance their op­tions and so con­trib­ute to their se­cu­rity and pros­per­ity.

In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi made good start few years ago when he an­nounced in Fiji that is­lan­ders could get e-visas on ar­rival for vis­its to In­dia. Three years ago Modi hosted 14 Pa­cific lead­ers in In­dia. A num­ber of ini­tia­tives were an­nounced, in­clud­ing Pa­cific is­lands’ ac­cess to free In­dian tele­vi­sion and ra­dio con­tent, train­ing for jour­nal­ists and set­ting up In­dia cen­tres in the re­gion (with books and cul­tural ma­te­ri­als on In­dia.).

But noth­ing much has hap­pened since. That’s partly ex­plained by the fact there’s only In­dian diplo­matic mis­sions in two of the is­land states, Pa­pua New Guinea and Fiji. There’s no per­ma­nent In­dian point of con­tact in the dozen other is­land states. There’s also the prob­lem that In­dia’s en­gage­ment with many of the is­lands states is via Fiji. While the spe­cial re­la­tion­ship with In­dia’s di­as­pora is un­der­stand­able, bas­ing New Delhi’s bi­lat­eral en­gage­ment on one com­mu­nity isn’t help­ful: non-eth­nic In­di­anPa­cific is­lan­ders may feel that they’re be­ing marginalised.

Ac­cess to af­ford­able In­dian ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion would be very wel­come in the Pa­cific, (In­dia is sup­port­ing tech­ni­cal schol­ar­ships for is­lan­ders), along with other projects around trans­port, IT and tele­coms. There are some ar­eas where In­dia might co-op­er­ate with Aus­tralia in the South Pa­cific.

In se­lected Pa­cific states, for ex­am­ple, we might co-op­er­ate around re­new­able en­ergy and cli­mate change is­sues where both coun­tries have some tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise. Aus­tralia has now joined the In­ter­na­tional So­lar Al­liance led by In­dia to roll out so­lar tech­nol­ogy. Aus­tralia and In­dia can work to­gether to help the is­lands meet their en­ergy needs.

An­other area might be health­care. In­dia un­der­stands vil­lage eco­nom­ics, and much of the Pa­cific is made up of vil­lages. For Aus­tralia, an area of co­op­er­a­tion could be in set­ting up much-needed dial­y­sis units, sup­ply­ing on-the-ground con­tacts and lo­gis­tic sup­port through our mis­sions, with In­dia pro­vid­ing equip­ment and staff.

An­other pos­si­bil­ity is deep seabed min­ing. In­dia is an of­fi­cial pi­o­neer in­vestor with an in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised mine

Be­lat­edly, In­dia has re­alised that it needs to match China’s as­sertive­ness

site in the cen­tral In­dian Ocean Basin and — like Aus­tralia — good ge­o­log­i­cal ex­plo­ration ca­pa­bil­i­ties. PNG re­cently started a deep seabed min­ing oper­a­tion and Solomon Is­lands, PNG and the Fed­er­ated States of Mi­crone­sia, like Aus­tralia, all have ex­tended con­ti­nen­tal shelves. This makes seabed min­ing an area where we might co-op­er­ate in the Pa­cific.

An­other area for bi­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion is dis­as­ter re­lief. In­dia and Aus­tralia both have ex­cel­lent ca­pa­bil­i­ties to as­sist in dis­as­ter re­sponse, es­pe­cially am­phibi­ous ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

The two coun­tries could also un­der­take joint naval de­ploy­ments in the re­gion. Be­lat­edly, In­dia has re­alised that it needs to match China’s as­sertive­ness in the In­dian Ocean and South China Sea, and that in­cludes ex­pand­ing Delhi’s reach into the Pa­cific. In­deed there’s been a re­cent surge in In­dia’s eastern naval de­ploy­ments, in­clud­ing send­ing ships to Suva and Pohn­pei, Mi­crone­sia.

This week Modi will be the first In­dian prime min­is­ter to at­tend a Com­mon­wealth sum­mit since 2009. With In­di­ans mak­ing up more than half of the com­mon­wealth’s pop­u­la­tion, if the or­gan­i­sa­tion is to find a new pur­pose and not just stum­ble on, then In­dia is well-placed to lead.

Now’s the time to start mov­ing to co-op­er­ate more with In­dia in the Pa­cific. If a steppedup In­dian en­gage­ment in the re­gion suc­ceeds, it has the po­ten­tial to make us all more se­cure.

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