President Pranab Mukherjee arrived in the capital of Papua New Guinea, seen as a push to India’s ‘Act East’ policy, an extension of the government’s ‘Look East’ policy. The President is accompanied by Minister of State for Agriculture Sanjeev Baliyan and a three-member delegation of Members of Parliament.
The visit is the first leg of his two nation visit, an attempt to strengthen ties with the Pacific Island nations, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand.
This is the first visit of an Indian head of state to Island nation since diplomatic relations were established in 1975. He was received by Deputy Prime Minister Leo Dion and was accorded a 21 gun salute.
The visit is also seen as a diplomatic move to counter China’s growing influence in the Pacific Island nations.
India is keen to gain a foothold in the health market of the Island nation. Before the President’s visit, the Indian government signed an agreement between the two countries, in an effort to build cooperation in the field of healthcare and medical sciences. The pact will also encourage cooperation between the Health Ministries of both the nations through joint initiatives in the sector.
The visit will give a push to Indian Pharmaceutical companies to set up business in the Island nation after the local government withdrew a ban in January.
Diseases like HIV and AIDS are listed as quite rampant in the Pacific nation and the life expectancy in the country stand in the mid 60s because of high cost of medical care.
Papua New Guinea has large natural resources of oil, gas and minerals and India will be looking for co-operation between the two countries in these areas as well, according to Joint Secretary (South) in External Affairs Ministry, Jaideep Majumdar.
During his stay, President Mukherjee will also meet the Governor General of Papua New Guinea, Michael Ogio as well as visit the Bomana War Cemetery to pay respect to the soldiers killed during the second World War. He will also address an Indian community event and deliver a speech at the Papua New Guinea University.
The President will travel to New Zealand on the 30th as part of the second leg of his two nation visit.
The two nations will work to strengthen cooperation in agriculture, dairy, food processing, education and skill development as well as high technology during Mukherjee’s visit.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key had visited India in 2011 and its Governor General in 2008, 2009 and 2011, while the last high level Indian visit was former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1986.
(With inputs from the PTI)