Prof. David Capie, Director, New Zealand India Research Institute,
Ms. Suzannah Jessep, Director, Asia New Zealand Foundation,
Amb. Rajiv Bhatia,
Distinguished Chairs, Speakers and Participants,
ICWA is glad to be hosting the 5th round of ICWA-ANZF-NZIRI Track II Dialogue with our partners in New Zealand, after gap of two years due to the COVID pandemic.
We are meeting at a time when the world is witnessing intense geopolitical churn with heightened strategic uncertainty. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has far reaching consequences. We are already seeing many implications of the crisis ranging from issues related to food security, energy security and long-term humanitarian crisis. There is a need for immediate cessation of hostilities; India believes that the conflict should be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy.
In our immediate neighborhood, Sri Lanka is in midst of its worst economic and debt crisis. India has extended economic support to Sri Lanka to ameliorate the situation in form of supplies of essential commodities viz petrol, diesel, and rice as well as a Line of Credit of US$ 2.5 bn. Situation in Afghanistan continues to be unsettled and of deep concern. It is important that the world does not relegate Afghanistan to the background due to Ukraine. It is important to remember that it was home to terrorists. India supports the formation of a truly inclusive and representative government in Afghanistan and has sent humanitarian assistance. Pakistan, for past few weeks, experienced high intensity political developments and has undergone a change of government. For India, it is important that the region remains peaceful and stable and free of terror.
These several regional and global developments come on top of the world dealing with two years of COVID pandemic. COVID has not only been a health emergency but has turned out to be a big economic disrupter and a geopolitical shock as well. During the pandemic, India emerged as the pharmacy of the world, supplying medicines to over 150 countries and later under Vaccine Maitri, supplied vaccine to over 90 countries.
The Indo-Pacific region is also witnessing increasing strategic competition. Apart from the economic dynamism of the region, major consequential factor influencing the recent geopolitical canvas is China’s asymmetric rise, its increasing foothold and assertiveness across the region and US-China contestations.
The South Pacific sub-region is undergoing many important developments and seeing increasing attention from major global powers. In the past few years, many of the Pacific island countries have established diplomatic ties with China moving away from Taiwan links. Solomon Islands signed the Framework Agreement for Security Cooperation with China, the details of which are not clear - does it involve establishment of bases? US plans to reopen its embassy in Solomon Island. US is also working towards negotiations for renewing Compacts of Free Association with the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), and Palau. Earlier, this year in February, US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken visited Fiji – the first such high level visit in 36 years. In South Pacific, it is important to see how New Zealand, a geographical player, coordinates its actions with its partners of the Five Eye arrangement, but a non-AUKUS member.
India is a major stakeholder in the Indo-Pacific. India’s vision is for a ‘free, open, inclusive, transparent and rules based’ Indo Pacific region with possibilities of security and growth for all and New Zealand also echoes similar sentiments for the region. Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) announced by Prime Minister Modi in 2019 at the East Asia Summit in Bangkok, encapsulates India’s vision to build partnerships for a stable maritime domain in the region with focus on issues like maritime security, maritime ecology and maritime resources, among others. India is looking forward to collaborating with like-minded countries on the IPOI.
India and New Zealand also support a central role for ASEAN in Indo-Pacific. Both have welcomed ASEAN’s Indo-Pacific Outlook.
India and New Zealand historically share close and cordial ties, based on shared values and a largely converging world view. New Zealand has been victim of terrorist attack in Christchurch in 2019. Both countries are parliamentary democracies, believe in rule of law. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were established in 1952. People to people contacts go back to 100 years. Indians are the fastest growing ethnic group in New Zealand. So, we have many positives to further build our ties.
Today, we look forward to fruitful discussion, I am confident that our dialogue will be productive and stimulating.