Pacific Security Snapshot | 11 May 2023

The security stories shaping the region

  • Australia announces Pacific support package
  • United States President Joe Biden to visit the Pacific
  • Embassy of the United States opens in Tonga
  • Chinese Special Envoy for the Pacific visits Samoa
  • 14th Pacific Heads of Health meeting in Fiji
  • Violence in Papua New Guinea’s Porgera Valley
  • 52nd Pacific Islands Forum Summit theme announced

Australian support for the Pacific

Australia is delivering a $A1.9 billion support package to the Pacific over the next five years. Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong announced that $A1.4 billion of this funding will be dedicated to “Pacific security priorities.” In a media release, Senator Wong outlined that this contribution will include further support for cyber security resilience, promoting the delivery of infrastructure and maritime security capability, and “one of the most significant increases” to the AFP’s partnership with the Pacific to enhance law enforcement and criminal justice initiatives. Additional Pacific security priorities that will be covered under the security package include expanded labour mobility opportunities under the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme, climate change preparedness and responding to humanitarian disasters.

Geopolitics

United States (US) President Joe Biden is expected to visit Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG) on 22 May. President Biden will meet with 18 leaders of Pacific Island Forum members on his first trip to the region as President. PNG Foreign Minister Justin Tkachenko has said that PNG’s objective is to have a defence pact signed during President Biden’s visit. At a press conference, Foreign Minister Tkachenko said the agreement will benefit both PNG and the US, stating “The most important thing is building up the capacity of the PNG Defence Force when it comes to training, infrastructure and assets.” President Biden’s visit coincides with that of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will be in Port Moresby for an India-Pacific Islands Summit. President Biden and Prime Minister Modi will then travel to Sydney, Australia, for the 2023 Quad Leaders’ Summit.

US President Joe Biden with Pacific Island leaders during the US-Pacific Island Country Summit held at the White House in Washington, DC, on September 29, 2022. Photo: Oliver Contreras / AFP

The US has opened a new embassy in Nuku’alofa, Tonga. US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink said the US is engaged in ongoing discussions with Vanuatu and Kiribati about opening embassies in those Pacific countries as well.

China has been leading its own delegation to the Pacific, with China’s Special Envoy for Pacific Island Countries Affairs Qian Bo visiting Apia, Samoa. This was Special Envoy Bo’s first trip to Samoa since coming into the role in February this year. At a press conference with Samoan Prime Minister Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa, Special Envoy Bo said requests made by Samoa for additional aid would be considered by the Chinese government. Special Envoy Bo used the conference to address concerns about China’s presence in the region, stating “China is not a newcomer to the Pacific. We are a contributor to peace and development… we have no ulterior motives in this region including in Samoa.”

China’s Special Envoy for Pacific Island Affairs and Prime Minister of Samoa Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa. Photo: Leota Marc Membrere

Human Security

The 14th Pacific Heads of Health meeting has concluded in Nadi, Fiji. The meeting covered an array of issues related to health security in the region, including the prevalence of non-communicable diseases such as obesity and the fragility of health systems in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. For the first time since 2015, HIV was on the agenda of the meeting, drawing attention to the increase in HIV infections by 129 per cent in Fiji and 46 per cent in PNG since 2010. The Chair of the Pacific Islands Regional Multicountry Coordinating Mechanism Dr Frank Underwood said HIV in Fiji is “currently the second fastest growing epidemic in the Asia-Pacific region. Given the vast migration of young people to Fiji from other Pacific Island countries, if unaddressed there could be serious implications.”

In PNG, violence is undermining law and order in the Porgera Valley. Government services, schools and Paiam hospital have been closed since the killing of six people on April 26. The violence, associated with ongoing fighting between the Nomal and Aiyela clans, has prompted protests calling for the government to declare an immediate State of Emergency in the Valley. The Porgera mine will not re-open unless communities in the area are safe and secure, according to Suyan community leader Michael Yandapake. 171 police and defence force personnel have been sent into Porgera as reinforcement security.

Young men in the Eastern Highlands of PNG engaged in tribal conflict walking to meet the opposing tribes. Photo: Roger Wheatley / AusAID

Regionalism

The 2023 Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) has announced that the 52nd PIF Leaders Meeting will be held in Rarotonga, Cook Islands. The summit will take place from November 6-10 with the theme ‘Our Voices, Our Choices, Our Pacific Way: Promote, Partner, Prosper.’ PIF Chair and Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown said the theme “represents the collective voice and aspirations of our Pacific people, highlighting the importance of promoting our unique Pacific Way, forging strong partnerships, and driving prosperity in our region.”

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