Pacific Security Snapshot | 10 November 2023

Regional leaders at the 52nd Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Meeting in Rarotonga, Cook Islands. Photo: PIFS

The security stories shaping the region

  • 52nd Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Meeting in Cook Islands 
  • The South Pacific Connect Initiative
  • Australia-United States commitments to Pacific finance and infrastructure
  • Lowy Institute 2023 Pacific Aid Map
  • Tropical Cyclone Lola hits Vanuatu and Solomon Islands
  • Parties to the Nauru Agreement endorse the Kirimati Communique 
  • Tonga prepares for El Niño drought


The 52nd Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Leaders’ Meeting took place in Cook Islands this week. For the first time since 2019, Dialogue Partners, including China, the United States, the United Kingdom and other non-member nations joined PIF members in Rarotonga. PIF Chair and Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown used his opening speech to emphasise that Our Voices, Our Choices, Our Pacific Way: Promote, Partner, Prosper, was not just the meeting’s theme but a collective regional “call to action” for leaders and delegates.

At the Small Islands States Leaders Meeting earlier in the week, Forum Secretary General Henry Puna urged delegates to see increasing strategic interests in the region as an opportunity, stating “we can take full advantage of this strategic environment and reap sustainable outcomes for our people.”

PIF leaders journeyed to the island of Aitutaki to talanoa privately before returning to Rarotonga to discuss regional issues and the implementation of the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent.

Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Henry Puna (L) with Forum Chair and Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown (R) at the 52nd Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Meeting in Rarotonga, Cook Islands. Photo: PIFS

South Pacific Connect

Australia and the US have pledged funding towards the South Pacific Connect Initiative. The Google undersea cable network will link the US mainland, Australia, Fiji, and French Polynesia, providing branching units for the US compact states, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu. The initiative is intended to reduce the digital divide in the Pacific and enhance the reliability, resilience and capacity of digital connectivity across the region. Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka said of the initiative: “we are forging a stronger, more connected, and resilient digital future for Fiji, the Pacific, and beyond, creating a legacy of economic growth, skill development, and progress for all.”

The South Pacific Connect funding was one of many regional commitments made during Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s visit to US President Joe Biden in Washington. Key additional commitments include the launch of the Pacific Banking Forum to enhance the region’s access to financial services, additional funding of US$50 million towards the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility to support digital connectivity options for Pacific nations and funding towards the multilateral Blue Dot Network to promote quality, transparent and sustainable infrastructure projects. The leaders also reaffirmed both nations’ commitment to the AUKUS submarine deal.

US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese hold a press conference during the AUKUS summit on 13 March 2023, at Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego, California. Photo: Jim Watson / AFP

Development Assistance

The Lowy Institute has released the 2023 edition of the Pacific Aid Map. The map includes data on more than 30,000 aid projects across 14 recipient states in the region, who received AU$5.5 billion in official development finance (ODF) in 2021. This record-breaking number is “still far from what the region needs in terms of funding — not just for classic development purposes, but also the negative consequence of climate change,” according to The Lowy Institute’s Alexandre Dayant. Australia remains the largest development partner in the Pacific, contributing nearly 40% of total ODF in the region between 2008-2021, whilst China’s share of annual funding in the region dropped from a high of 14% in 2016 to less than 5% in 2021.

Lowy Institute Pacific Aid Map | 2023 Key Findings Report

Environment and Resources

Northern Vanuatu and Tikopia in Solomon Islands are recovering from the damages caused by Tropical Cyclone Lola in late October. This is the third major cyclone to hit the archipelago this year, leaving just 50 of the 198 homes on the island of Tikopia intact. In Vanuatu, a six-month State of Emergency has been declared in the Malampa, Penama, Sanma, Shefa and Torba Provinces. The Vanuatu Government has approved 1.5% of its total annual budget to fund the cyclone response, in addition to the humanitarian assistance provided under the FRANZ cooperation between France, Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand.

The Parties to the Nauru Agreement Leaders’ Summit was held in Kirimati, Kiribati last month. Representatives from Tuvalu, PNG, Solomon Islands, Marshall Islands, Palau, Federates States of Micronesia and Kiribati endorsed the Kirimati communique. Key agreements of the communique include the prioritised development of electronic monitoring  to ensure continuous and independent monitoring of fisheries, consideration to developing broader sets of standards including those related to human rights, crew welfare and transparency, and preparation to adapt and seek justice in relation to negative climate change impacts on fisheries.

Finally, Tonga is preparing for severe drought conditions caused by El Niño. Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu and nearby ‘Eua are already in drought conditions, with drought warnings in place for Ha’apai and Vava’u and drought alerts for Niua-toputapu and Niua-fo’ou. Prime Minister of Tonga Siaosi Sovaleni told the media that the main concern is sufficient water resources for residents of the outer islands, with the government planning to provide these areas with desalination machines to convert seawater into drinking water.


Watch and Listen

Featuring the Mission’s first woman special coordinator, Justine Braithwaite, Episode 5 spotlights the humanity that underpinned the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). Watch here.

Heather Wrathall and Kate Archer from Asia-Pacific Development, Diplomacy & Defence Dialogue (AP4D) explore how Australia can work with Pacific islands to invest in new technology and take a leadership role in the decarbonisation of shipping in the region. Read more

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