Moresby | A friend in need is a friend indeed, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told leaders of 14 Pacific Island nations on Monday invoking the old proverb and said those considered trustworthy were "not standing by our sides in times of need", in what is being seen as an oblique reference to China.
In his address to the leaders at a summit in Port Moresby, Modi said India stood by the Pacific Island nations in the challenging time and conveyed to them that they can consider New Delhi as a "reliable" development partner as it respects their priorities and its approach for cooperation is based on human values.
The prime minister, who arrived here on Sunday on the second leg of his three-nation tour, also underlined the importance of a free and open Indo-Pacific for the Pacific Island nations and said India respects the sovereignty and integrity of all countries.
In his remarks at the FIPIC (Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation) summit, Modi assured the island nations that India is ready to share its capabilities and experiences with them "without any hesitation" and "we are with you in every way." The prime minister's comments in the capital city of Papua New Guinea came amid China's aggressive behaviour in the region as well as its efforts to expand its influence in the Pacific island nations.
"Those whom we considered trustworthy, it turned out that they were not standing by our side in times of need. During these challenging times, an old saying has proven true: 'A Friend in need is a friend indeed'," he said while talking about the adverse impact of Covid-19 pandemic and other global challenges.
"I am glad that India stood with its Pacific island friends during this challenging time. Whether it was vaccines or essential medicines, wheat or sugar; India, in line with its capabilities, has been assisting all partner countries," he said.
The prime minister said India's approach to development partnership is based on "human values".
"India respects your priorities. It feels proud to be your development partner. Whether it's humanitarian assistance or your development, you can count India as a reliable partner. Our perspective is based on human values," he said.
Explaining India's priorities for the island nations, Modi said: "For me, you are not small island states, but large ocean countries. It is this vast ocean that connects India with all of you. Indian philosophy has always viewed the world as one family." He also announced a series of new development initiatives by India in the areas of healthcare and cyberspace including establishing a super-specialty cardiology hospital in Fiji, setting up dialysis units in all 14 Pacific island countries as well as sea ambulances for them.
Modi also announced bringing Jan Aushadhi Centers to the island nations for ensuring medicines at affordable prices besides a project for the development of the small and medium enterprise sector in every Pacific Island country.
To address the water scarcity issue, Modi pledged to provide desalination units for the people of every Pacific Island country.
In his address, he said the world has gone through a difficult period of Covid-19 pandemic and many other challenges and their impact has been felt mostly by the countries of the Global South.
"Climate change, natural disasters, hunger, poverty, and various health-related challenges were already prevalent. Now, new issues are emerging. Barriers are arising in the supply chains of food, fuel, fertilizer, and pharmaceuticals," he said.
The prime minister also reaffirmed India's strong support for a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific.
"We share your belief in multilateralism. We support a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific. We respect the sovereignty and integrity of all countries," he said.
Modi said the "voice of the Global South" should also resonate strongly in the UN Security Council. "For this, reform of the international institutions -- should be our shared priority." "I had discussions with Australia, the US and Japan in Hiroshima as part of the Quad. This dialogue has a special focus on the Indo-Pacific region. In the Quad meeting, we have taken a decision to establish the Radio Access Network (RAN) in Palau," he said.
"In a plurilateral format, we will enhance partnership with Pacific Island countries," Modi said.
Modi conveyed to the Pacific Island nations that India is ready to share its capabilities and experiences with them "without any hesitation".
"Whether it's digital technology or space technology; whether it's health security or food security; whether it's climate change or environmental conservation; we are with you in every way," he said.
The prime minister also highlighted India's priorities under its G20 presidency.
"The theme of our ongoing G-20 Presidency this year, 'One Earth, One Family, One Future,' is also based on this ideology," he said.
"This year, in January, we organised the 'Voice of Global South Summit, in which your representatives participated and shared their thoughts," he said.
"I congratulate you for that. India considers it a responsibility to bring the issues, expectations and aspirations of the Global South to the attention of the world through the G-20 platform," he added.
The summit was co-chaired by Prime Minister Modi along with his counterpart from Papua New Guinea.
India's engagement with the 14 Pacific Island Countries (PICs) is part of New Delhi's Act East Policy.
A major part of India's engagement with PICs is through development assistance under South-South Cooperation which is mainly in the form of capacity building and community development projects.
A major initiative launched under the rubric of the Act East Policy for the PICs is the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC). Prime Minister Modi hosted the first FIPIC summit in Suva on November 19, 2014, during his visit to Fiji.
The second FIPIC summit was held in Jaipur on August 21 again with all 14 PICs taking part.
At that summit, India announced initiatives across a wide array of areas to assist the PICs in facing challenges and achieving aspirations for the well-being and development of its people.