Pacific Security Snapshot: 1 February 2023

Fijian Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka addresses members of the media on January 17, 2023. Photo: Leon Lord / AFP

Fijian Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka addressed members of the media on January 17, 2023. Photo: Leon Lord / AFP

The security stories shaping the region

  • ➣ Kiribati announces return to Pacific Islands Forum 
  • ➣ Fiji terminates policing agreement with China 
  • ➣ PNG and Australia to finalise negotiations for security pact 
  • ➣ Kiribati re-opens tuna fishing area 
  • ➣ Samoa raises concerns over Australia’s announcement of a new visa for Samoan workers 

Regionalism 

The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) is united again, as 2023 begins with strengthened commitments to regionalism and security cooperation.  

The government of Kiribati has confirmed that the Micronesian country will be rejoining the Forum this year. Less than a year following Kiribati’s formal withdrawal from the Forum, the country’s return to the regional body follows a bilateral meeting in Tarawa between Kiribati President Taneti Maamau and Fiji’s Prime Minister Sitiveni Ligagamada Rabuka.  

The meeting was the first official overseas visit made by Prime Minister Rabuka since taking office, with the Fiji delegation performing a traditional boka ceremony before the talks. The delegation introduced the ceremony as one that is practiced to ‘acknowledge deep and sincere regret’ and affirm ‘one’s commitment to kinship and solidarity.’ The ceremony and subsequent bilateral meeting were well-received by President Maamu who stated, “Kiribati as a Pacific nation has truly felt that brotherly love that translates into the Pacific way of acceptance, reconciliation, peace and unity.” 

Kiribati was the only Micronesian nation to uphold its withdrawal from PIF, following the negotiation of the Suva Agreement in 2022. The Agreement sought to resolve what former Nauruan President Lionel Aingimea described as the ‘total disregard’ with which Micronesian nations felt they were being treated by the Forum. The Suva Agreement is anticipated to be signed by all five leaders at the Micronesian Presidents’ Summit ahead of the Forum Leaders Meeting in Fiji in March.  

Security ties 

In Fiji, Prime Minister Rabuka announced the government’s decision to terminate the 2011 Memorandum of Understanding between China’s Ministry of Public Security and the Fiji Police Force. Prime Minister Rabuka told The Fiji Times that the decision was made due to the differences between the two nations’ systems of democracy and justice, stating that Fiji will ‘go back to those that have similar systems’ as theirs, such as Australia and New Zealand. Australia and Fiji signed a Status of Forces Agreement in October 2022, which allows for both nations’ military forces to operate within the other.  

Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Australia have made a ‘joint commitment’ to finalise negotiations on a bilateral security treaty by the end of April this year. Before the talks in Port Moresby, PNG Prime Minister James Marape noted that the relationship with Australia could be ‘tidied’ through improving the visa relationship and business to business relations. A Defence Cooperation Agreement with the United States (US) is also in sight for PNG, with high-level talks set to take place in Honolulu next month.  

Palau and the Marshall Islands have each signed Memoranda of Understanding with the US this month. These security agreements have been made ahead of the expected renewal of the bilateral Compacts of Association the US has with Palau, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia later this year.  

Under the Marshall Islands’ renewed treaty with the US, the Marshall Islands’ national trust fund will receive $700 million to support nuclear testing victims, promote economic development and safeguard against climate change. Marshallese Foreign Minister Kitlang Kabua told The Washington Post that the new deal is ‘because of China. We’re not naive,’ with the new agreement granting the US a veto over Marshallese territory being used by a foreign military. 

Environment and Resources 

Kiribati has re-opened the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) to tuna fishing, an area that covers 400,000 km2 in the central Pacific. This decision is supported by research conducted by the Pacific Community and the Kiribati Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources Development, which found that making PIPA a no-take Marine Protected Area has had a ‘negligible impact’ on the conservation of tuna species. The re-opening of PIPA will provide a critical source of income to Kiribati through foreign tuna vessel license fee revenue.  

New Zealand’s North Island has experienced heavy rain and flooding since January 27, taking the lives of four people. Auckland and regional Waitomo remain in a state of emergency, with new Prime Minister Chris Hipkins confirming 350 people required emergency accommodation.  

Domestic Politics 

Samoa’s Acting Prime Minister Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio has spoken out against the Australian government’s announcement of 3,000 new visas for Pacific workers. Acting Prime Minister Ponifasio told the parliament in Apia that ‘there has been no communications with our Government on this,’ expressing that labour shortages will be exacerbated by workers and families leaving Samoa permanently. The Cabinet has placed a temporary ban on the deployment of seasonal workers for the month as it prepares a policy on the selection of visa applicants. 

Tokelau, a New Zealand territory, held its first election in which all three atolls participated in the same electoral process. Alapati Tavite was voted in as Faipule (representative) of Nukunonu, the largest atoll, and a formal ceremony will be held for Tavite to take on the role of Ulu o Tokelau, head of state.  

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