Why in the news?
- China’s Foreign Minister is now visiting 10 Pacific Island Countries (PICs) and co-hosted the Second China-Pacific Island Countries Foreign Ministers Meeting with Fiji.
- However, China’s efforts to push through a comprehensive framework agreement at the summit failed to achieve consensus among the PICs.
- China inked a contentious security agreement with the Solomon Islands in April 2022, raising regional fears.
What exactly are Pacific Island Countries?
- The Pacific Island Countries are a group of 14 states located primarily in the Pacific Ocean’s tropical zone between Asia, Australia, and the Americas.
- Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu are among them.
What is the Importance of PICs?
The following are the largest Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs):
- The islands are separated into three distinct parts based on physical and human geography: Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia.
- Despite their tiny land area, the islands cover a large region of the Pacific Ocean.
- As a result, while being among the world’s smallest and least inhabited governments, they have some of the world’s largest Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs).
Large EEZs have a high economic potential since they can be exploited to exploit the abundance of fisheries, energy, minerals, and other marine resources.
As a result, they prefer to be known as Big Ocean States rather than Small Island States.
Indeed, Kiribati and FSM, both PICs, have greater EEZs than India.
Part in Major Force Competition:
As springboards for power projection and laboratories for developing and testing strategic capabilities, these countries have played an important role in major power rivalry.
The colonial era’s great nations contended with one another for control of these vital provinces.
Significant Nuclear Weapon Test Sites:
Due to the islands’ remoteness from the Soviet Union and major population centres across the world, some of the United States’, United Kingdom’s, and France’s major nuclear weapon test sites were placed here.
Potential Vote Bank:
The 14 PICs, united by common economic and security concerns, account for the same number of votes in the UN and serve as a potential vote bank for large powers seeking to mobilise international opinion.
What Is the Importance of PICs in China?
Develop an Effective Blue Water Navy:
- The PICs are in the logical path of China’s maritime interest and naval force buildup.
- They are located beyond China’s ‘First Island Chain,’ which signifies the country’s first maritime expansion hurdle.
- The PICs are strategically positioned in what China refers to as its “Far Seas,” control of which will make China a formidable Blue Water Navy – a vital prerequisite for becoming a superpower.
The necessity for China to influence the PICs has become even more essential at a time when the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue has developed as a major force in the Indo-Pacific in comparison to China.
- Aside from the huge marine wealth of the PICs, the Taiwan factor plays a significant role in China’s Pacific calculus.
- China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade state, is preparing for what appears to be an impending military assault.
- In this framework, it is critical to break Western dominance of Pacific island chains that could stymie reunification.
- Keeping the PICs away from the West and Taiwan will make China’s goal of Taiwan reunification simpler to achieve.
- Through economic generosity, China has gained diplomatic recognition from ten of the fourteen PICs.
- Taiwan is now recognised by only four PICs: Tuvalu, Palau, the Marshall Islands, and Nauru.
What are the Consequences of China’s Latest Move?
PICs may be drawn into major power struggles:
- Because the PICs as a group did not agree to China’s comprehensive and ambitious demands, China was unable to reach an agreement on the contract.
- Signing the economic and security agreement proposed by China could have negative consequences for PIC sovereignty and unity, potentially dragging them into significant power confrontations in the future.
Traditional regional powers have been more cautious:
- The strengthening of China’s diplomacy toward the Pacific Islands has made the regional powers, such as the United States and Australia, more apprehensive.
- Since the China-Solomon Islands agreement, the US has begun to reconsider its diplomatic priorities for the region.
- The US could play a role in mobilising opposition to China’s proposed treaty because the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) is the only country that recognises China while also being a signatory to the Compact of Free Association with the US.
- The Federated States of Micronesia is a republic made up of over 600 islands in the western Pacific Ocean.
What are the Key Aspects of India-PIC Relations?
- About: The existence of a sizable Indian Diaspora in the region continues to boost India’s involvement with the PICs.
- Nearly 40% of Fiji’s population is of Indian heritage, and there are currently roughly 3000 Indians in Papua New Guinea.
- In terms of institutional engagements, India is a member of the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) as one of the Forum’s core conversation partners.
- The creation of an action-oriented Forum for India and Pacific Islands Cooperation in recent years has been the most significant development in facilitating India’s relationship with the PICs (FIPIC).
- FIPIC, a worldwide organisation, was founded in 2014.
- The PICs, with their resource-rich EEZs, can be appealing sources of natural resources such as liquefied natural gas (LNG) and hydrocarbons to fuel India’s developing economy, as well as new markets.
- Given its own emphasis on the concept of ‘Blue Economy,’ India may engage with these countries in particular.
- Climate Change and Sustainable Development: Because of their geographical location, these island countries are particularly exposed to the negative consequences of climate change.
- Rising sea level affects low-lying island states by increasing soil salinity, which also creates a relocation problem.
- As a result, climate change and sustainable development are critical issues that require greater collaboration to find effective and meaningful solutions.
- The majority of Pacific Island countries are vulnerable to a wide range of natural disasters, which have widespread social, economic, and environmental implications.
- India can help enhance disaster risk resilience capacity.
- India launched Climate Early Warning Systems in seven PICs in September 2017.
- PICs, while geographically small, have significant economic, strategic, and political significance in international affairs.
- Recent engagement efforts in the region have brought India significantly closer to these countries.
- India’s approach to the PICs is based on transparency, necessity, and an inclusive partnership with the region based on shared values and a shared future.
- With the third FIPIC summit set to take place soon, India’s involvement with the PICs is expected to deepen in the following years.