Pacific Security Snapshot | 13 April 2023

Rarotonga Island, Cook Islands. Photo: Daniel Fisher

Rarotonga Island, Cook Islands. Photo: Daniel Fisher

The security stories shaping the region

  • PIF Chair reassured that AUKUS upholds the Treaty of Rarotonga
  • Papua New Guinea’s Porgera gold mine to reopen this year
  • Fiji restores Taiwan Representative Office name and diplomatic privileges
  • International Seabed Authority meetings on deep-sea mining end without establishing regulatory provisions
  • Vanuatu and Aotearoa New Zealand sign the Mauri Statement of Partnership
  • Kiribati receives Chinese funding for health, social stability and disaster resilience
  • Palau bans e-cigarettes

Geopolitics

Pacific Islands Forum Chair and Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown says he has been reassured that AUKUS does not go against the Treaty of Rarotonga. Prime Minister Brown met with United States (US) Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in Washington in late March. The meetings came after Prime Minister Brown expressed concerns that the AUKUS nuclear-submarine agreement “goes against” the 1985 Treaty. Following his visit to the US, Prime Minister Brown said he is “reassured to receive from US counterparts last week assurances that AUKUS would uphold the Rarotonga Treaty.”

Fiji has notified Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) that the nation’s representative office will once again be called the Trade Mission of the Republic of China (Taiwan) to the Republic of Fiji. The office was previously renamed the Taipei Trade Office in Fiji, since a 2018 decision made under Frank Bainimarama’s government. The change has been welcomed by MOFA’s East Asia and Pacific Affairs head Wallace Chow, who said it demonstrated the “Taiwan-friendly” policy of Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka’s coalition government. Taiwanese diplomats are now entitled to full diplomatic privileges in accordance with Fiji’s diplomatic laws, however Fiji will continue to formally recognise the People’s Republic of China (PRC) over Taiwan.

Vanuatu and Aotearoa New Zealand have signed the Mauri Statement of Partnership in Port Vila. Aotearoa New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs Nanaia Mahuta met with Vanuatu Foreign Minister Jotham Napat to sign the agreement, which is “a joint expression of the values, priorities and principles that will guide the Aotearoa New Zealand–Vanuatu relationship into the future” according to Minister Mahuta. The agreement allocates NZ$12 million for the roll out of the Pacific Insurance and Climate Adaptation Programme in Vanuatu and NZ $18.5 million towards continuing the two parties’ Water Sector Partnership. Non-climate change related initiatives include NZ$3million to general budget support and NZ$4million for Vanuatu’s post-pandemic tourism sector recovery. The agreement is the first Statement of Partnership signed between Vanuatu and Aotearoa New Zealand.

Enviroment and Resources

It remains unclear whether Nauru would be able to commence its planned deep-sea mining in international waters.

Pacific delegates spent three weeks in Kingston, Jamaica, attending the 28th Session of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) on deep-sea mining in international waters. The United Nations (UN) associated body meetings concluded without passing the draft regulations on deep-sea mining. The urgency of establishing deep-sea mining regulations is due to Nauru’s July 2021 triggering of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea provision known as the ‘two-year rule.’ The provision requires the ISA to accept mining permit applications within two years, irrespective of whether regulatory standards have been agreed upon by ISA decision-makers.

As stipulated by the ‘two-year rule,’ the ISA must start accepting deep-sea mining permit applications from July 9. Whilst this decision is supported by Nauru and Cook Islands, other Pacific islands states and territories have voiced their opposition to industrial-scale deep-sea mining. Fiji, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Federated States of Micronesia and Aotearoa New Zealand have called for a moratorium due to environmental concerns and lack of scientific data. At the meetings in Kingston, Vanuatu supported a ‘precautionary pause’ for the same reasons. Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr has advocated for a temporary suspension until at least 2030.

Nauru sponsors the Metals Company subsidiary Nauru Ocean Resources Inc. (NORI), which completed a mining test in the Pacific in September 2022. If NORI’s permit application is approved by the ISA, the company can begin extracting polymetallic nodules from the Pacific Ocean in 2024.

A giant crawler machine used to dredge the seabed for diamonds is seen being pulled on board a sea mining vessel. Photo: Gianluigi Guercia / AFP

In Papua New Guinea (PNG), one of the country’s largest gold mines is set to recommence operations this year. Operations at Porgera have been suspended since 2020 due a dispute over benefit sharing with local communities. Rebranded as New Porgera Limited,  the mine’s equity is now held by 51 per cent PNG stakeholders, and economic benefits will be shared 53 per cent to PNG stakeholders and 47 per cent to the mine operator Barrick Niugini Limited. Porgera Gold Mining contributed to 10 per cent of PNG’s exports and employed over three thousand people in 2019, and Barrick president Mark Bristow said New Porgera Limited “will give preference to locals in recruiting employees for the reopening mine.”

Human Security

Kiribati has received A$6.67 million from China under the Livelihood Project. The Project, which was first signed between Kiribati and the PRC in 2020, covers a variety of human security issues including medical, social stability and disaster resilience funding. The handing over of the grant was attended by PRC Kiribati Ambassador Tang Songgen and Kiribati Vice President and Minister for Finance and Economic Development Dr Teuea Toatu. In a statement, Vice President Toatu said, “The People’s Republic of China is truly one of our most trusted partners in development and we are confident that this partnership will grow.”

Palau has implemented a sweeping prohibition of e-cigarettes. Under the new law, individuals face a fine of up to US$1,000  if found with the product and those who import, distribute or sell e-cigarettes may be fined US$20,000. The law is in response to the increase in vaping among young people in Palau since 2019, with up to 7% of students reporting the use of e-cigarettes. President Surangel Whipps Jr said the law will “protect the health of the public, especially our youth” and “further our goal of promoting a healthy lifestyle among our citizens.”

Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. Photo: Ahmad Gharabli / AFP

Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. Photo: Ahmad Gharabli / AFP

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