Balaji Chandramohan –
Academics and bureaucrats underlined the importance of taking Indo-Kiwi relations to the next higher level at an international seminar held in Delhi last month.
The two-day meeting, organised jointly by the New Zealand India Research Institute (NZIRI) and Observer Research Foundation (ORF), an Indian think tank under the theme ‘Towards and Indo-Pacific Partnership: Reconnecting India and New Zealand’ also emphasised the importance of working towards a consensus on outstanding issues.
The joint meeting, held at the ORF building, reiterated India’s desire in playing a larger role in Asia, building new partnerships with key states and attracting direct foreign investment and commercial relationships into India.
The thinking in the Indian capital’s power circles is that New Zealand presents a major opportunity to sharpen India’s focus in the Pacific region.
From New Zealand’s point of view, India is becoming very important, orchestrated by increasing migration, student population in various New Zealand institutions and tourist visits. These have added a new dimension to India’s role as a geo-political player in its own right.
India’s relations with the South Pacific Island countries have also been getting closer with increasing frequency of two-way visits of ministers and officials.
Although not mentioned explicitly, it is understood that New Zealand may welcome a more robust role for India at economic and politico-military level in the region. Much of these may form a part of the New Zealand Defence White Paper early next year.
Among the speakers were Victoria University Professors David Capie, Jon Fraenkel, Dr Manjeet Pardesi, Waikato University Professors Dr Mark Rolls and Professor Frank Scrimgeour and New Zealand India Research Institute Director Sekhar Bandyopadhyay.
The issues discussed at the conference at the micro-policy level included tensions in the South China Sea, counter-terrorism policy piracy, biodiversity, maritime strategy of India and New Zealand and the (elusive) Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
The Seminar expressed the hope that New Zealand Prime Minister John Key may be able to discuss the thorny aspects of FTA during his second official visit to India next year. A long-standing visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also likely to be discussed.
Dr Bandyopadhyay highlighted the positive role of Indian migrants in New Zealand.
According to him, despite facing several challenges, Indian migrants have integrated into the New Zealand society.
Indians have identified themselves well with New Zealand glorifying the relations between the two countries and seeing the better of the two worlds.
“The challenge now is how New Zealand can continue to attract bright Indian migrants in the coming years and how it is tertiary education that will continue to provide skill-based education for the global capital markets,” he said.
Dr Bandyopadhyay also mentioned the positive and vibrant role played by the Indian media in New Zealand, highlighting their contributions to improve bilateral relations.
Professor Raja Mohan, a Distinguished Fellow at the ORF said that India and New Zealand shared a number of commonalities starting from the colonial age.
New Zealand High Commissioner Grahame Morton said that both countries can play a shared role in the overall security architecture of the Asia-Pacific and have in place an informal alliance.
Balaji Chandramohan is our Correspondent based in New Delhi