Interview with H.E. Mr. Vishvas Sapkal, High Commissioner of India to Fiji (also concurrently accredited to Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu)

How do you see India-Fiji long term relationship?

India’s relations with Fiji are historic.   Despite vast geographical distances, we share common heritage, historical and cultural links, shared values and common interests.  The special bond with Fiji through the Girmitiya system and huge population of Indian-descent is well documented and needs no introduction.   Since the historical visit of Hon. Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi to Fiji on 19 November 2014, this special historical relationship received a shot in the arm and now India and Fiji are engaged in building a modern partnership on the strong foundations of these cultural and historical linkages.   India is a committed development partner of Fiji and is here to stay and share its development experience with Fiji and all the other Pacific Island Countries (PICs).  Both sides are earnestly working towards further widening and deepening of relationship with Fiji and other PICs.

What do you think about Indian Diaspora in Fiji?  How their presence is affecting the current economic and trade scenario of the country?

As I said, India’s links with Fiji are historical.  They commenced in 1879 when Indian labourers were brought here by the British under Indentured Labour System to work on sugarcane plantations. Between 1879 and 1916, around 60,553 Indians were brought to Fiji on 87 ships. Beginning with early 20th century, Indian traders and others also started arriving in Fiji.  In 1920, the Indenture System was abolished.  Currently, of the 884,887 population (as of September 2017 census), over one-third are people of Indian origin.   Indian Diaspora has contributed tremendously towards the economic development of Fiji.  Members of the Indian-origin community are leaders today in the field of economy and trade.  They are heading some of the most successful business-houses in Fiji today.

In 2017, India and Fiji signed a defence pact to strengthen Fiji naval capabilities, arms production training, according to you what is the importance of this pact?

Hon. Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, Minister of Defence and National Security of Fiji visited India in May 2017 and this MoU on cooperation in the field of Defence was signed during the visit. India and Fiji are looking at expanding their cooperation into new areas and Defence and Security is one of the important ones.  This pact is a significant indicator of our desired to upgrade our relationship several notches higher to include the strategic sectors in it.  This pact will provide the enabling framework to achieve that objective.   Indian Naval Ship (INS) Sumitra paid goodwill visit to Fiji in October 2016 and brought five tons of vegetable seeds for distributing to the farmers whose crops were damaged during the Tropical Cyclone Winston in February 2016.  INS Sahyadri paid a goodwill visit to Fiji in August 2018.

What are the recent developments that had taken place between the two nations on the ground of trade, economy, politics and other fronts?

Relations between Fiji and India are on a high growth trajectory in all spheres.  These are two countries separated by geography and united by historical and cultural linkages.   Hon’ble Prime Minister of India H. E. Mr. Narendra Modi often invokes “Vasudevay Kutumbkam”  i.e. “the whole world is one family”. India’s foreign policy is essentially based on this approach as well, which entails pursuit of international peace and welfare of all.  In this effort, India and Fiji are sharing a great bond. India is a committed partner in Fiji’s development process. Our two countries are now engaged in the process of building a modern, multifaceted partnership.

The historic visit of Indian Prime Minister to Fiji in November 2014 had given a big impetus not only to this bilateral relationship but also to the relationship between India and all the 14 Pacific Island Countries as it paved the way for the first Summit of the ‘Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC)’ in Fiji.  Prime Minister of Fiji Rear Admiral (Ret’d) Honourable Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama also participated in the Second Summit of FIPIC held at Jaipur in August 2015.  Honourable Bainimarama visited India in May 2016 and met Hon’ble Prime Minister of India.

PM Bainimarama also participated in the Founding Conference of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) held at New Delhi in March 2018 and he had bilateral meeting with our PM. Amb. Yogesh Karan, Permanent Secretary to Fijian Prime Minister’s Office participated in the first ISA Assembly held at New Delhi in October 2018.

Earlier, the Third round of India–Fiji Foreign Office Consultations (FOC) was held on 21 February 2017 at New Delhi. Ambassador Mrs. Preeti Saran, Secretary (East) led the Indian delegation, while Ambassador Robin Nair, Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs (the then) led the Fijian side to review all ongoing bilateral/multilateral cooperation activities.

With exchanges at the highest level in the preceding year, 2017 was the year to further consolidate and build upon the progress made in the above-referred two Summits.   This effort culminated into India organizing the India-Pacific Islands Sustainable Development Conference (IPISDC) at Suva on 25-26 May 2017.   The Conference was hosted by Hon’ble Minister of State for External Affairs, General (Dr.) Vijay Kumar Singh (Retired) and was attended by high leadership of 14 Pacific Island countries.  Hon’ble Minister General (Dr.) Singh handed over US$ 1.76mn assistance towards Fijian SME sector.  As announced by Indian Minister of State, India provided US$ 1mn to Fiji’s COP23 Presidency Trust fund in June 2017.

During the India-Pacific Islands Sustainable Development Conference at Suva on 25-26 May 2017, India signed MoUs for setting up of Centres of Excellence in Information Technology (CEIT) with Fiji, Cook Islands, Nauru, Samoa and Niue.  India and Fiji also signed three MoUs for cooperation in the field of Youth Development, Renewable Energy and Information and Broadcasting.

An MoU for cooperation between ‘Election Commission of India’ and ‘Fiji Elections Office’ was signed on 24 January 2017 which will enhance cooperation between the two democracies.  In March 2017, during the visit of Hon. Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum, Minister of Economy, Public Enterprises, Civil Services & Communications to India both countries signed Air Services Agreement.  Similarly, Jet Airways and Fiji Airways signed code-sharing agreement paving the way for more people-to-people exchanges.  Fijian Minister of Agriculture and COP23 Climate Champion Hon. Inia Seruiratu participated in FICCI’s Business and Climate Summit alongwith Fiji’s COP23 team on 31 August – 1 September 2017.

India proudly supported the Fijian General Election 2018 held on 14 November 2018 by gifting indelible ink and five vehicles to the Fijian Elections Office.  India also co-chaired the Multinational Observers Group on the Fijian Elections alongside Australia and Indonesia.

India has approved US$ 55.78mn under Line of Credit (LOC) to Fijian sugar industry and another US$ 70mn LOC is in the pipeline.  Recently, India provided tractors, lorries, sugarcane harvestors and agricultural implements to the Fiji Sugar Corporation and Fijian Agriculture Ministry.

International Solar Alliance

One of the major milestones achieved in recent times was Fiji becoming the Founding Member of the International Solar Alliance (ISA).  This joint initiative by India and France came into force in 2017 and holds promise to unlock the solar energy for the benefit of all ISA Members.  Fiji has signed and ratified the Framework Agreement of the ISA which came into force in December 2017.

India provides hundres of scholarships for short-term and long-term training courses in India under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) and various schmes of Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) every year for strengthening HRD cooperation with Fiji.  India is providing assistance for renovation of 20 Fijian schools under ‘Adopt a School’ Scheme of Government of Fiji.  These schools were damaged during Tropical Cyclone Winston in February 2016.

Namaste Pacifika: Festival of India: In association with Indian Ministry of Culture, MEA, ICCR and Ministry of Tourism, the High Commission of India in Suva organized a six-month long grand cultural Fest, ‘Namaste Pacifika: Festival of India’, with involvement of 12 groups, 125 artists and 55 events, including a Food Festival of India and a play on Mahatma Gandhi, in Fiji and six concurrently accredited countries from 28 October 2017 to March 2018. The Festival was inaugurated by the President of Fiji on 28 October 2017.

International Day of Yoga is celebrated every year in Fiji and in six other concurrently accredited countries with great enthusiasm and fervour where dignitaries including Presidents, Prime Ministers and other Ministers etc participated in the events.

High Commission is also celerbating Bapu@150 with several events in the 150th birth anniversary year of Mahatma Gandhi.  Nauru’s President H.E. Mr. Baron Waqa himself sang “Vaishnav Jan” bhajan as a special tribute to Gandhiji and a personal gift to Hon’ble Prime Minister of India.  The Bhajan was inaugurated by Hon’ble PM in New Delhi on 2 October 2018 in the presence of UN Secretary General.

We have also chalked out a detailed calendar of events to mark the 550th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev ji to be celebrated throughout 2018-2019.

Your message for the reades of Envoy Excellency?

I convey my best wishes to the team of the ‘Envoy Excellency’ in the outstanding work they are doing in the field of international relations and diplomacy and showcasing India’s foreign policy to the world through this platform. I also take this opportunity to convey my heartiest Season’s Greetings to you and your readers.

Leave a Comment