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Meeting with Modi likely highlight of Hipkins’ PNG visit


Photo courtesy-RNZ

Venu Menon
Wellington, May 19, 2023

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins will meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his upcoming visit to Papua New Guinea.

Hipkins is set to travel to Port Moresby on May 21, where he will also meet PNG Prime Minister James Marape and Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown, the prime minister’s office announced today.

Hipkins will attend a lunch hosted by Modi for Pacific Island leaders.

Hipkins is headed to Papua New Guinea to attend the US-Pacific Summit which will be attended by the leaders of 18 Pacific countries and territories.

“I’m very much looking forward to meeting with Prime Ministers Modi, Marape and Brown and with other regional leaders attending these significant Pacific gatherings,” Hipkins said.

“While this visit to Port Moresby will be relatively short, it is significant. It includes several opportunities to talk with Pacific leaders, which is important given that I was unable to attend the Pacific Islands Forum   earlier this year because of Cyclone Gabrielle,” Hipkins said.

He noted regional unity was “critical to the resilience of the Pacific” and added that he was pleased to see the US engaging constructively with the Pacific Islands Forum members on issues of importance to the region, especially climate change.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will represent President Joe Biden, who cancelled his visit to the region.

A White House spokesman called the summit an opportunity for leaders to discuss ways to deepen cooperation on “challenges critical to the region and to the United States such as combating climate change, protecting maritime resources, and advancing resilient and inclusive economic growth.”

Papua New Guinea is scheduled to host two key meetings with Pacific leaders on May 22.

The first is a US Pacific dialogue, which is in doubt after Biden pulled out.

The second is the India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC) summit.

With Biden’s visit a non-starter, the focus has now shifted to a bilateral engagement between Hipkins and Modi.

Both the US and China are vying for a foothold in Papua New Guinea, which is emerging as a hotbed of conflicting world power interest. Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the Pacific Island nation in 2018, which triggered a pledge by the US administration to commit more resources to the Indo-Pacific.

Last year, the US, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the United Kingdom launched Partners in the Blue Pacific (PBP), an informal group working to promote economic and diplomatic ties with Pacific Island nations.

“We are united in our shared determination to support a region that benefits the peoples of the Pacific. We are also united in how we realise this vision – according to principles of Pacific regionalism, sovereignty, transparency, accountability, and most of all, led and guided by the Pacific Islands,” a White House statement issued at the time said.

White House Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell had acknowledged that the US needed to step up its interest across the Indo-Pacific and establish contact with Pacific Island countries that at times “receive lesser attention.”

Prime Minister Hipkins returns to New Zealand on May 23.

Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington

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