In recent times, the South Pacific has emerged as a new arena for strategic contestation. Great powers like the U.S. and China are now jostling for influence in a region traditionally dominated by regional players like Australia and New Zealand. The region, which includes 14 sovereign nations, and seven territories, lies at the crossroads of strategically significant maritime trade routes. China has gradually increased its profile in the South Pacific, with nations such as the Solomon Islands and Kiribati changing their recognition from Taiwan to China in 2019, raising the tally to ten out of 14 South Pacific countries now recognizing China. The recently concluded bilateral security arrangement between China and the Solomon Islands has raised concerns amongst the U.S. and its regional allies over the prospects of a Chinese military base in the Pacific. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and a large delegation also made an eight-country tour through the Pacific Islands, just after the Australian election and the Quad leaders' meeting. During the tour, China also floated the "China-Pacific Island Countries Common Development Vision" and "Five-Year Action Plan (2022–26)", which could potentially circumvent other regional initiatives such as that put forward by the United States, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity. In response, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand have increased their diplomatic outreach to the Pacific Island Countries. The U.S. led 'Partners in the Blue Pacific' initiative launched in late June this year is one such attempt to counter China's inroads in the South Pacific. This seminar will focus on the direction of this new strategic competition in the South Pacific and its implications for the stakeholders.
About the Speakers
Ambassador Yogendra Kumar retired from diplomatic service in 2012 in the rank of secretary, equivalent to vice minister, in the government of India. He has been ambassador to the Philippines, with concurrent accreditation to Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands. Earlier, he was head of the Indian mission in Namibia and in Tajikistan (2000–03), during which period he also handled India’s policy towards Afghanistan. He has also been Consul General in Tashkent covering the entire Soviet Central Asia. He has served in the Indian diplomatic missions in Moscow, London, Islamabad and Brussels. In Delhi, he has served on the faculty of National Defence College. At the foreign office, he has handled relations with Sri Lanka, Maldives, Soviet Union, Central Asian countries and with numerous multilateral economic organisations. He has most recently authored, a book titled, 'Diplomatic Dimension of Maritime Challenges for India in the 21st Century', and a book titled, 'Whither Indian Ocean Maritime Order?'
Vice Admiral Anil Chopra has been a Distinguished Fellow with a number of think-tanks, including the Observer Research Foundation, Gateway House, Vivekananda International Foundation, and Delhi Policy Group. He is a former Commander-in-Chief of both the operational commands of the Indian Navy i.e., the Western Naval Command, and the Eastern Naval Command; as well as a former Director General of the Indian Coast Guard. He has also commanded the Western Fleet, and the aircraft carrier, INS Viraat. As Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Policy and Plans), and earlier as Principal Director Naval Plans, he was extensively associated with the Navy’s Long-Term Force Structure and Financial Planning. As member of the apex Defence Acquisition Council for three years, he was involved with the ongoing evolution of the Defence Procurement Procedure. He has also been a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council of the U.S. in Washington D.C. Admiral Chopra retired in 2015, after forty years of distinguished service.
Dr. Pragya Pandey is a Research Fellow at the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), Sapru House, New Delhi. She specialises in issues related to maritime security, Indian Ocean, Indo-Pacific and regional geopolitics. She has written extensively on these issues. Earlier, Dr Pandey was Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science, Miranda House, University of Delhi. She has received her PhD from the Centre for Indo-Pacific Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She has co-edited volumes titled ‘Roads, Winds, Spices in the Western Indian Ocean: The Memory and Geopolitics of Maritime Heritage’, ‘KM Panikkar and the Growth of a Maritime Consciousness in India’, and ‘1982 UNCLOS Perspectives from the Indian Ocean’. She has presented papers at various national and international conferences and dialogues and has considerable publication to her credit.
About the Chair
Ambassador Biren Nanda served in the Indian Foreign Service from 1978 to 2015 and is a distinguished former career diplomat with extensive experience of working in East Asia. During 2004-2008 Ambassador Nanda was posted in the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi as Joint Secretary (South) and was responsible for India’s relations with Southeast Asia and the Pacific. He was the Ambassador of India to the Republic of Indonesia, Timor Leste and ASEAN from 2008 to 2012 and High Commissioner of India to Australia from 2012 to 2015. He has previously served as a diplomat in Indian Missions in Singapore, Beijing, Shanghai, Washington, D.C., and Tokyo. He was Consul General of India in Shanghai from 1996- 2000 and the Deputy Chief Mission in the Embassy Policy of India in Tokyo from 2000-2004. Amb. Nanda also serves as a Senior Fellow at the Delhi Policy Group.
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