"The government of India is fully appreciative of the geo-strategic importance of the South Pacific Region, in particular, the Pacific Island Countries," said the visiting Indian Union Minister of State for Surface Transport, National Highways, Shipping and Petroleum & Chemical Fertilizers, Mansukh Mandaviya.

The Minister was in Auckland on Tuesday, April 24, for a brief stopover of fewer than twenty-four hours, en-route to Tonga and Fiji - an opportunity that the Minister had used well to reach out to the representatives of the local Kiwi-Indian diaspora.

Among other engagements with the representatives of Kiwi-Indian community in Auckland, the Minister attended a reception hosted by the New Zealand Indian Central Association (NZICA) and Auckland Indian Association (AIA) at Mahatma Gandhi Centre in Eden Terrace, Auckland Central.

Earlier, speaking exclusively with the Indian Weekender, the Minister emphasised that the current government in New Delhi is committed to increasing India's global footprints around the world to advance India's national interests along with connecting with the members of the Indian diaspora, and the South Pacific region offers the opportunity for both of these objectives. 

"When Modi government came to power in 2014, there were still 29 nation-states around the world, with which India had either not established any diplomatic contacts, or no Ministerial level visit had been undertaken.

"We are committed to bridge that gap and expand India's global foot print, and my visit to Tonga is the first Ministerial-level visit," the Minister said explaining the rationale behind ensuing Tonga visit.

"I look forward speaking with the government of Tonga and enhancing bilateral cooperation.

"The government of India had committed $USD 1 million aid at the time of the recent cyclone in Tonga, of which $500,000 were delivered immediately after the storm.

"I will be handing over the remaining $500,000 cheque along with good wishes of people of India for an early recovery to the people of Tonga," Mr Mandaviya said.

The Minister also further hinted that the current disposition in New Delhi was fully appreciative of the geo-strategic importance of the Pacific Islands Countries in realising India's global ambitions.

"India needs support from all countries in United Nations, and towards this goal, we need to engage constructively with all countries, including PICs.

It is important to note that experts envisaging India's enhanced role in Pacific Island Countries have long argued that while PICs are small in terms of land area and population, they are sovereign nations with a voice in international organisations such as the Commonwealth, United Nations and other International forums. India’s global ambitions and role means it cannot ignore any region in any part of the world.

In this regard, this ongoing Ministerial visit to Tonga was long due.

Similarly, speaking about the visit to Fiji, the Minister said, "We have longstanding bilateral relations with Fiji with many mutual high-level political visits including Prime Minister and Head of States.

"I will be continuing to talk with the government of Fiji to deepen those long-standing ties.

It is important to note that India continues to engage with Fiji and other PICs under the framework of the Forum for India Pacific Islands Co-operation (FIPIC).

FIPIC is a multinational grouping developed in 2014 for cooperation between India and 14 Pacific Island nations, and the first annual summit was held in Suva, Fiji.

Since then many bilateral visits between India and Fiji has happened including the last one by India's Union Minister of State for External Affairs Gen. V. K. Singh in May 2017, when the Minister was in Fiji to host a two-day conference organised under FIPIC.