Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Papua New Guinea on Sunday for talks with Pacific island leaders, the first visit by an Indian premier as New Delhi seeks to counter China’s growing footprint in the region.
Modi landed just after 10pm local time (1200 GMT) in the capital Port Moresby, where he will co-host the Summit of the Forum for India’s Pacific Islands Cooperation on Monday with Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape and other Pacific island leaders.
Beijing has been pouring vast sums into the Pacific, which has alarmed New Delhi officials who consider the region to be its backyard.
Relations between China and India have deteriorated since 2020 after clashes along their shared border.
Monday’s talks are set to focus largely on climate change and development. The last such summit was hosted by India eight years ago.
Modi was met by a gun salute, traditional dancers and was welcomed by Marape.
The visit comes after Modi joined leaders from the United States, Japan and Australia on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Japan for a gathering of the Quad members, which aims to contain China’s growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific.
G7 leaders, along with Modi and others invited to the summit, warned China on Saturday over its “militarisation activities” in the Asia-Pacific region but said the bloc also wanted constructive and stable relations with Beijing.
The G7 nations laid out a raft of concerns about China’s economic and military activities in their final communique from Hiroshima.
New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins arrived in Papua New Guinea for the Pacific summit earlier on Sunday.
Australian leader Anthony Albanese will be absent from the meeting after U.S President Joe Biden cut short his diplomatic tour over U.S debt crisis talks.
New Delhi is increasing its engagement with the Pacific islands because of their strategic location and fears that China could fill voids left by other powers, experts say.
“Along with India’s increasingly prominent role in the Quad, it’s coming out on the international stage as an Indo-Pacific power. It wants to be seen as such,” Mihai Sora, Pacific Islands research fellow at Australia’s Lowy Institute, told AFP.
“This trip, and I would expect more engagement over the coming years, is really about building these relationships.
Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Papua New Guinea in 2018.
U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken will replace Biden for a parallel summit in Papua New Guinea with Marape and Pacific leaders on Monday, where he is expected to sign a security pact with the island nation.
China, in an apparent response to that deal and Blinken’s visit, said Friday that countries should not engage in “geopolitical games” in the South Pacific.
“China has no objection to normal exchanges and cooperation between relevant parties and Pacific Island countries,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a daily briefing.
“We also oppose any introduction of any geopolitical games into the Pacific Island country region.”
After meeting Marape, Modi will head to Australia on Tuesday for talks with Albanese to complete his three-nation tour.