In­dia needs to pass the Oceania test to be a great power

In­dia needs to en­sure more diplo­matic rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Oceania. A good coun­try to start would be the King­dom of Tonga, which was never colonised and holds a unique soft power po­si­tion in the South Pa­cific, and in­ter­na­tion­ally.

The Sunday Guardian - - Covert - KING­DOM OF TONGA

Oceania is an in­creasi ngly i mpor­tant com­po­nent of In­dia’s Act East pol­icy. The re­gion cov­ers one-sixth of the planet’s sur­face, form­ing a wa­tery buf­fer (or, in case of bad times, the front line) be­tween Asia and the Amer­i­cas. It is the “lit­mus test” for great pow­ers on the lineup to would be global su­per­pow­ers. It is the stage for diplo­matic, and often mil­i­tary show­down, for coun­tries on the rise, whether from within the re­gion or be­yond. Ev­ery­one watches how ma­jor pow­ers per­form in the re­gion. If the show­down is at­trac­tive, then there’s po­ten­tial. If not, the chances of suc­ceed­ing in fur­ther re­gions are im­plied.

Oceania in­cludes 14 Pa­cific is­land na­tions: the Cook Is­lands, Fiji, Kiri­bati, Marshall Is­lands, Fed­er­ated States of Mi­crone­sia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Pa­pua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Is­lands, King­dom of Tonga, Tu­valu, and Van­u­atu. It is a largely peace­ful re­gion, with nat­u­ral re­sources and mostly English-ca­pa­ble, ed­u­cated pop­u­la­tions.

While small in pop­u­la­tion (the largest PIC, Pa­pua New Guinea, has an es­ti­mated pop­u­la­tion of 6.7 mil­lion), they con­trol enor­mous maritime ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zones (EEZ) in the re­sourcerich Pa­cific. They are often re­ferred to as “small is­land” states, but ac­tu­ally these coun­tries are “large ocean” states. For ex­am­ple, with its maritime EEZ in­cluded, Kiri­bati alone cov­ers as much of the planet’s sur­face as In­dia. The coun­tries of Oceania also form a po­ten­tially cru­cial vot­ing bloc in in­ter­na­tional fora.

Need­less to say, China has al­ready re­alised the po­ten­tial of Oceania and has built large em­bassies in ev­ery Pa­cific Is­land Coun­try (PIC) with which it has diplo­matic re­la­tions. In­dia, mean­while, only has rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Fiji (mostly be­cause of the In­dian di­as­pora) and Pa­pua New Guinea ( be­cause of trade and min­er­als). In­dia rou­tinely goes un­rep­re­sented at re­gional meet­ings held in the other 12 PICs.

How­ever, there is clear will­ing­ness in Delhi to de­velop deeper ties with Oceania. Part of the rea­son is to en­hance In­dia’s strate­gic po­si­tion­ing and to broaden un­der­stand­ing of In­dia’s views in in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tion. But it is also due to highly com­pat­i­bles cul­tures and economies. Fam­ily-fo­cused Pa­cific Is­lan­ders often feel very at home in In­dia, and vice-versa.

In or­der to move for­ward with the nat­u­ral and needed en­gage­ment, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi vis­ited Fiji in 2014 and hosted Oceania lead­ers in In­dia in 2015. At the In­dia meet­ing, a whole slate of pro­pos­als was made by In­dia on ways to deepen re­la­tion­ships. Some were en­acted im­me­di­ately, to great ef­fect, for ex­am­ple, In­dian e-visas on ar­rival for many Pa­cific Is­land Coun­tries. How­ever, in many other ar­eas, there has been lit­tle trac­tion. The rea­son is sim­ple. There are very few Pa­cific Is­lands rep­re­sen­ta­tives in New Delhi, and very lit­tle In­dian rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Oceania.

How can you get to know each other if you hardly ever meet? Your six-year- old niece prob­a­bly knows more about Oceania af­ter see­ing the lat­est Dis­ney movie Moana (which is all about Poly­ne­sian cul­ture), than the aver­age In­dian in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions pro­fes­sor. And all most Pa­cific Is­lan­ders know about In­dia is what they learn from Bol­ly­wood.

Pa­cific Is­land Coun­tries, like In­dia, are very fam­i­ly­fo­cused and so­cially com­plex. Un­less you spend time in the place, and get to know it, you don’t know who is re­ally able to get things done. That is why, for ex­am­ple, China main­tains a con­stant pres­ence. If there is any of­fi­cial event or im­por­tant so­cial gath­er­ing, some­one from the Chi­nese em­bassy will at­tend. Ad­di­tion­ally, thou­sands of schol­ar­ships are given to Pa­cific Is­lan­ders to study in China. The King­dom of Tonga has a pop­u­la­tion of around 100,000. This year alone, over 150 Ton­gans are study­ing in China. Many will re­turn to po­si­tions of im­por­tance in Tonga. China may not be in di­rect com­pe­ti­tion with In­dia in the re­gion. For now. But the path to global su­per­pow­er­dom, runs through this re­gion. And China knows it.

Ad­di­tion­ally, if a spe­cial in­ter­est lobby wants to pass, for ex­am­ple, an in­ter­na­tional treaty, they send a team of “ed­u­ca­tors” to Pa­cific Is­land Coun­tries, and their po­si­tion is put for­ward un­chal­lenged in a se­ries of work­shops. That’s what hap­pened with the Pa­cific sup­port for the UN’s small arms treaty. Work­shops were held pro­mot­ing it, and with no ex­pla­na­tion of why Delhi ob­jected, sup­port was eas­ily gar­nered in the re­gion, to the ul­ti­mate detri­ment of In­dia.

There are strong and nat­u­ral com­pat­i­bil­i­ties be­tween In­dia and Pa­cific Is­land Coun­tries. In­dia would not dis­place ex­ist­ing in­ter­na­tional re­la­tion­ships, but rather com­ple­ment them, strength­en­ing the re­gion, and in re­turn help­ing In­dia’s global po­si­tion. But for that to hap­pen, there needs to be more points of con­tact.

A key el­e­ment would be en­sur­ing there is more In­dian diplo­matic rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Oceania. A good coun­try to start would be the King­dom of Tonga. The King­dom of Tonga was never colonised and holds a unique soft power po­si­tion in the South Pa­cific, and in­ter­na­tion­ally.

The ex­tended royal fam­ily of Tonga has fa­mil­ial links to many of the other Pa­cific Is­land Coun­tries, de­lib­er­ately fos­tered as part of Tonga’s for­eign pol­icy over cen­turies. Ad­di­tion­ally, there are long-stand­ing and strong re­la­tions with the royal fam­i­lies of Ja­pan, Thai­land, Bhutan, the United King­dom and else­where. Tonga’s soft power is un­ri­valled in the re­gion.

The 2015 corona­tion of the present King of Tonga was at­tended by the Crown Prince and Princess of Ja­pan. It was the first visit out­side Ja­pan for the Crown Princess in over two years, show­ing the depth of the re­la­tion­ship. In­dia, mean­while, sim­ply sent some­one from the high com­mis­sion in Fiji. If In­dia had sent some­one from New Delhi, or had rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Tonga, pro­to­col would have al­lowed them bet­ter ac­cess not only to the core of the Ton­gan and re­gional es­tab­lish­ments, but also to the vis­it­ing dig­ni­taries. An easy op­por­tu­nity was missed.

In­dian rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Oceania could also help open up trade, med­i­cal, and ed­u­ca­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties that would ben­e­fit both sides.

A com­ple­men­tary and equally im­por­tant ini­tia­tive would be for In­dia to help set up an “Oceania House” in Delhi. Most Pa­cific coun­tries don’t have the funds to set up diplo­matic rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Delhi, how­ever if a fa­cil­ity was set up for Pa­cific Is­land rep­re­sen­ta­tives to be based in In­dia, it would give a turbo boost to Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s many ini­tia­tives. The re­sults would be to: * Make it eas­ier to clear road­blocks to im­ple­ment­ing many of Modi’s pro­pos­als. * Make it eas­ier to de­velop bi­lat­eral un­der­stand­ing be­tween In­dia and the dozen plus Pa­cific Is­land Coun­tries on in­ter­na­tional is­sues of mu­tual im­por­tance. * En­able re­gional co­he­sion, al­low­ing, for ex­am­ple, for Pa­cific Is­land Coun­tries to work to­gether on pool­ing pur­chases of In­dian phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, etc. * Give ac­cess to Pa­cific Is­land pol­i­cy­mak­ers to the think­ing be­hind var­i­ous In­dia poli­cies on in­ter­na­tional is­sues. * Fa­cil­i­tate Pa­cific Is­lan­ders to come study in In­dia. In­dia and Oceania are like fam­ily mem­bers who meet only rarely at large, loud fam­ily re­unions, never get­ting the time to truly get to know each other. The time has come spend time to­gether, and see what we can do when we re­ally put our minds to it. Be­sides, how one per­forms with the “lit­tle por­tions” shows how much po­ten­tial one deals with more com­pli­cated chal­lenges. Te­vita Mo­tu­lalo is the co­Founder and Di­rec­tor of Re­search of the Royal Oceania In­sti­tute, the King­dom of Tonga’s in­de­pen­dent think tank, and Se­nior Re­searcher at Gate­way House think tank, Mum­bai.

An im­por­tant ini­tia­tive would be for In­dia to help set up an “Oceania House” in Delhi. Most Pa­cific coun­tries don’t have the funds to set up diplo­matic rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Delhi, how­ever if a fa­cil­ity was set up for Pa­cific Is­land rep­re­sen­ta­tives to be based in In­dia, it would give a turbo boost to PM Modi’s many ini­tia­tives.It will make it eas­ier to de­velop bi­lat­eral un­der­stand­ing be­tween In­dia and the dozen plus Pa­cific Is­land Coun­tries on in­ter­na­tional is­sues of mu­tual im­por­tance.

REUTERS

The Ton­gan team is seen at the open­ing cer­e­mony of the 2016 Rio Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on 5 Au­gust 2016.

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