Vishvas Sapkal, High Commissioner of India to Vanuatu, in this exclusive interview for Vila Times talks about India’s policy in the Pacific, relations with Vanuatu, International Solar Alliance and booming sectors of Vanuatu’s economy.
‘India seeks to cooperate with all the countries of the region in realizing their developmental aspirations’
– Hello Mr. Sapkal. Tell me about India’s policy in the Pacific.
High Commission of India in Suva is accredited to Fiji and six other Pacific Island Countries (PICs) namely, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. While it is the prerogative of the Ministry of External Affairs to comment on the policy in the Pacific as a whole, I would like to mention here a phrase often used by our Hon’ble Prime Minister H.E. Mr. Narendra Modi to describe the underlying principle of India’s foreign policy, “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” i.e. “the earth is one family”. India, therefore, seeks to cooperate with all the countries of the region in realizing their developmental aspirations as a committed development partner.
‘India’s relations with all the 14 Pacific Island Countries are booming’
– As far as I can see, India on the government level is quite active in Fiji due to the large number of Fijians of Indian ethnicity in the country. What about other Pacific countries and Vanuatu in particular? Are there plans for India to increase its presence in this region?
Our relations with all the 14 Pacific Island Countries are booming. I would like to draw your attention to the historic visit of Indian Prime Minister to Fiji in November 2014 which had given a big impetus not only to bilateral relationship with Fiji but also with the 14 Pacific Island Countries as it paved the way for the first Summit of the ‘Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation’ (FIPIC-I) in Fiji. Vanuatu delegation, led by the Minister for Foreign Affairs Hon. Meltek Sato Kilman, attended the Summit.
A Vanuatu delegation led by Prime Minister Hon. Meltek Sato Kilman, visited India to attend the 2nd Summit of Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC-II) held at Jaipur on 21 August 2015.
Only last month, Hon. Charlot Salwai, Prime Minister of Vanuatu, led the country’s delegation to the International Solar Alliance (ISA) Founding Conference and Solar Summit which was held in New Delhi on 11 March 2018. Prime Minister also had a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister of India H.E. Mr. Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the Conference.
Vanuatu has signed Framework Agreement of ISA in November 2016 and the Prime Minister of Vanuatu has conveyed in his address in the Plenary Session of the Conference that in the next Parliamentary Session, it will be ratifying the Framework Agreement. Vanuatu will be benefited by joint solar projects under the umbrella of ISA.
India organized the India-Pacific Islands Sustainable Development Conference (IPISDC) at Suva, Fiji on 25-26 May 2017. The Conference was attended by high leadership of 14 Pacific Island countries.
‘India will be doing solar electrification of 200 houses in Vanuatu’
As for India’s relations in particular with Vanuatu, I would like to highlight a couple of developments here.
Mr. Piyush Goyal, Indian Minister of State for Power, Coal, New & Renewable Energy and Mines visited Vanuatu from 25-26 October 2016. This was first-ever Indian Ministerial visit to Vanuatu. Minister of State for Power presented a cheque of US$190,000 to Hon. Bruno Leingkone Tau for procurement of IT equipment for 76 schools in Vanuatu. Both Ministers had signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Establishing India-Vanuatu Centre of Excellence in IT (CEIT). Three Vanuatu trainers are undergoing six months’ training in Pune, India at present.
India had given US$669,093 to Vanuatu since 2006 for various community development projects like procurement of equipment for school/office equipments/ICT equipments, etc.
India will be doing solar electrification of 200 houses in Vanuatu.
‘India’s policy in the Pacific or elsewhere is governed by its own worldview and principles rather than rivalry’
– For India as one of global powers and one of China’s main regional rivals, is there a concern on official level about China’s rising influence in the Pacific, Fiji in particular and other countries?
India believes in peaceful co-existence and development of all with cooperation and harmony and is not in competition with any country. India’s policy in the Pacific or elsewhere is governed by its own worldview and principles rather than rivalry with anyone.
– Could we say that International Solar Alliance is a part of India’s strategy to extend its influence in Asia-Pacific?
International Solar Alliance (ISA), a joint initiative of Governments of India and France, is a coalition of solar resource rich countries lying fully or partially between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn to specifically address energy needs by tapping solar energy from the sun. This alliance will provide a platform for prospective member countries to collaborate and address the identified gaps through a common agreed approach. ISA has been envisioned as a dedicated platform which will contribute towards the common goal of increasing utilization and promotion of solar energy and solar applications in its prospective member countries to help the world transition to a low-carbon and greener society.
Therefore, we should not limit this initiative to a specific region or geo-political framework. We are basically interested in harnessing more and more solar energy to fight Climate Change and save the planet Earth.
‘Sectors such as tourism, construction and agriculture are booming in Vanuatu’
– What are your views on the current political and economic status of Vanuatu in the Pacific region?
Vanuatu is a friend of India. Vanuatu and India are both democratic countries. We are happy with the progress made by Vanuatu in recovery efforts after the devastation caused by Cyclone Pam in 2015. India had contributed with US$250,000 as humanitarian assistance to that effort. It is heartening to note that the economic growth registered by Vanuatu was 4.5 per cent in 2017. Sectors such as tourism, construction and agriculture are booming. However, the recent setbacks due to mass evacuation from Ambae Island on account of Manarao Volcano activity in September last year and again since last month and the damage caused by TC Hola are a matter of concern. India is in constant touch with Government of Vanuatu on this matter to assist suitably in the relief and rehabilitation effort.
– Which countries in the Pacific, besides Fiji, have the most potential for the development of trade and other economic relations with India?
We would rather not pick and choose favourites. We look forward for greater cooperation with all our friends in the Pacific. Each Pacific Islands State has its own specific growth trajectory, its own particular strengths and opportunities for trade, investment and bilateral cooperation.
India, through its initiatives such as FIPIC, International Solar Alliance, ITEC and Grant in Aid programmes looks forward to share its developmental experience for the benefit of the friendly people of Vanuatu. We share common goals and face common challenges such as Climate Change. India is committed to this fight and is standing firmly with Vanuatu and all the other PICs for a better future and sustainable development of all.