Two vessels of the Indian Navy docked in Papua, New Guinea, on Wednesday. This underscores the importance of India to global superpowers like the US and China, as well as their allies. The guided-missile destroyer INS Kolkata and INS Sahyadri frigate will stay in Port Moresby, PNG’s capital, for two days, an Indian embassy official said. The visit will boost maritime cooperation and security in the area, per an embassy statement.
India, at present, holds the rotating presidency of the G20. The vessels will then participate in naval exercises in Australia belonging to the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, also known as Quad, which includes Japan and the US. The Malabar activity begins next Friday.
The US and its allies are seeking to deter nations in the Pacific island from developing security ties with China, a growing concern amid heavy tensions over Taiwan and after Beijing reportedly signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands.
PNG also struck a defence agreement with Washington in 2023 (May). Pacific island leaders, whose territories comprise 40 million square km of ocean, have said that rising sea levels caused by climate change are their most pressing security priority. The Indian navy port call follows a visit by the Indian PM Narendra Modi in May 2023 to Papua New Guinea. This underdeveloped yet resource-rich nation lies to the north of Australia.
Modi had taken part in a summit meeting of Pacific nations. The leaders of both Indonesia and France, along with senior British and US officials, have visited PNG in quick succession. Joe Biden, the US President, was compelled to cancel a visit owing to debt ceiling negotiations in Washington. On Wednesday, Solomon Islands PM Manasseh Sogavare, feted during a visit in July to Beijing, broke ground on a China-financed assignment to build approximately 161 Huawei telecommunications towers throughout an archipelago with a population comprising 700,000.
We will be aware of misinformation like debt traps, he stated, per a government statement. Michael Green, CEO of the US Studies Centre, which is part of the University of Sydney, said that it was not the first time that the Pacific Islands have come to world attention during significant transitions in international relations.
At the end of WWI, the islands “consumed attention” at the 1921 to 1922 Washington Naval Treaties when there were ongoing concerns over Japan’s access to an undersea cable, mentioned Green, former senior US national security advisor. After WWII, the US was firmly determined to keep the former Japanese islands out of the Communist bloc as they were critical to safeguarding the southern flank below Japan and above Australia, he mentioned. With China’s rise, he added that Pacific Islands’ airfields and undersea cables have again come into the picture.
China is the largest trading partner of PNG. Meg Keen, the director of the Pacific Islands Program associated with the Lowy Institute think tank, said that the recent push by China into security has raised concerns among Western nations with national interests in the region. The US has been trying hard to secure a bilateral security deal with PNG and show it is in the zone to stay and will make a positive difference.
Until now, its engagements have been modest. She said that Pacific Island nations have welcomed additional interest from the West but are expected to continue engaging with China. She added that the Pacific will want more than Pacific frequent flyers; they want genuine collaborations that deliver results.
Reference: Economic Times, The Print, Reuters
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