New Delhi: India would be holding the first-ever summit meeting with the leaders of 14 South Pacific Island nations on Nov 19 in Fiji, seeking to strengthen its geo-strategic base in the region that is rich in resources and lies at the centre of a growing maritime route.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who visits Fiji on the last leg of his three-nation tour after Myanmar and Australia, will interact for the first time with the leaders of small South Pacific Island countries that dot the ocean to the east of Australia.
In addition, in Fiji where the prime minister travels on Nov 19, he would be holding a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.
In Suva, Modi would attend on Nov 19 a first-ever meeting with the leaders of the island countries of Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
"The meeting of Pacific Island Leaders will bring together all 14 island countries in a first ever summit with India. We hope to make this a regular process to improve dialogue and cooperation," said Secretary (East) in the ministry of external affairs Anil Wadhwa at a briefing here Monday ahead of the visit.
"India and the Pacific Islands share similar challenges of climate change but also have great opportunities for cooperation in our development efforts. We have been participating in UN related bodies as well as in the Pacific region for a with the island states and we share a warm understanding.
"They look forward to our leadership role and support for policy, development assistance and capacity building. The meeting will help develop new initiatives and a roadmap for our joint efforts,"he added.
The summit has been called by India and it would be an annual event, he said.
"The great distance from India has its own challenges. We are looking at ways to improve connectivity and visa facilitation. This would be of great interest to other island countries in the south Pacific region who use Fiji as a hub,"he said.
"Fiji is the major country in the south Pacific region where each island country has also been supporting India's candidature for a permanent seat with respect to UN Security Council," he added.
The 14 South Pacific islands, though small, also have a vote each in international matters, which would hold strategic weight for India as it seeks to play a larger international role.
China has already gained a foothold in the area by setting up diplomatic missions in almost all the island nations and engaging actively in the area.