Papua New Guinea (PNG) Prime Minister James Marape, known only by a handful in India before, instantly became viral in the Asian country after giving a “traditional” and rousing welcome to his counterpart Narendra Modi, who was the first Indian leader to visit the Pacific country.
A clip of the PNG leader touching the Indian prime minister’s feet—something that is common only in India whereby young ones pay respect to the elders—bowled over millions of Indians.
Speaking exclusively to WION’s correspondent Sidhant Sibal, Marape shared his thoughts behind the ceremonious welcome, and how Modi’s visit is a turning point for the nation.
WION: You broke the protocol to receive Indian PM Modi and welcomed him in a traditional manner, how did that happen?
Marape: We come from a society where we respect elders. This is not an everyday welcome that a guest receives. It’s an ancient culture which believes in showing respect to elders and PM Modi is a senior person and heads the biggest democracy by population. He could have ignored PNG, but he visited the island nation. Thus, I had to receive him personally.
WION: Your traditional welcome went viral and many Indians appreciated it.
Marape: Well, he is the leader of the people and he is a spiritual person. In our culture, giving respect to an elder is important and he is a senior statesman and not just a leader.
WION: You also said India is the third biggest power, if you can elaborate?
Marape: I see the emergence of India and its ability to reach out to north, south, east, and west and a small nation like Papua New Guinea, which makes it a unique country.
WION: The Forum for India–Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC) summit saw India reaching out to Pacific countries. Can you discuss the summit’s key outcomes?
Marape: The outcome was on multiple fronts. It consolidated the Pacific family going forward into the future as a bloc.
WION: How do you see the Indo-Pacific relations, how do you see Pacific countries in the arena?
Marape: PNG is surrounded by other nations. We and other Pacific countries want to live peacefully and co-exist. Let’s not talk about war or conflict. Instead, talk about uplifting the lives of ordinary people. We are fed by one air and one sea. Small nations of the Pacific want to be part of the global considerations and there is no room for war or territorial contest. We just want to make Mother Earth a hospitable place. We should talk about climate change, and sea level rise, which are a threat to the Pacific countries. And, we see India as an advocate of the Pacific in the G7 and G20.