Pacific Security Snapshot | 16 February 2023

Waste baskets in a nuclear-spent fuel pool. Photo: Lou Benoist / AFP

The security stories shaping the region

  • Pacific Islands Forum Security Report released
  • Japan delays nuclear waste discharge into Pacific Ocean
  • Cyclone Gabrielle hits the South Pacific
  • Suva Agreement endorsed at the 21st Micronesian Presidents’ Summit
  • US embassy reopens in Solomon Islands
  • Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea sign policing agreement
  • $500m-worth of cocaine seized in Pacific Ocean
  • Protest in Solomon Islands after Malaita province Premier ousted
  • Papua New Guinea government announces 2022 General Election inquiry

Climate Change  

The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Secretariat released its Pacific Security Outlook Report 2022 –2023, reaffirming climate change as the single greatest threat to security. The report emphasised that actions to mitigate warming levels to close to 1.5C cannot eradicate all risks, projecting that ‘these now unavoidable risks will highly likely negatively impact the security of Pacific peoples.’ Other key priority focus areas outlined in the report include violence against women, girls, and children; cybercrime and transnational crime; and illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUU).

Aerial image of Uepi, Western Province, Solomon Islands. Photo: DFAT

Enviroment and Resources

Japan has delayed the discharge of more than one million tonnes of nuclear waste into the Pacific Ocean. A high-level PIF delegation met with the Prime Minister of Japan Fumio Kishida to discuss its plans to dump waste from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. PIF Secretary General Henry Puna led the Delegation, along with incoming Chairman, Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Brown, and Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Marshall Islands Kitlang Kabua. Henry Puna stated that ‘The visit is in pursuit of our joint commitment at the PALM9 to safeguard our nations against nuclear contamination.’

The Japanese government insists the waste, from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, will be uncontaminated after being treated by an Advanced Liquid Processing System. PIF’s stance is that there must be a full assessment of impacts to human health and environment before the nuclear wastewater is released. Japan assured the PIF delegation that the discharge, initially set for April, will be delayed until PIF experts have verified that it is safe.

The impact of Cyclone Gabrielle continues in the South Pacific. In the north-west of Vanuatu’s Santo Island, Malpoi is in urgent need of drinking water after the cyclone triggered a landslide which contaminated the village’s main water source. The village will also need long-term financial support after the landslide destroyed houses and plantations. In Aotearoa New Zealand, an estimated 2500 people have been displaced by the cyclone and a national state of emergency has been declared.

Regionalism

The 21st Micronesian Presidents’ Summit was hosted by the Federated States of Micronesia on February 13 in Palikir, Pohnpei. The theme of the summit was ‘Paddling together for a Stronger Micronesia,’ as the Presidents unanimously endorsed the reforms made to the Suva Agreement. The Suva Agreement grants Micronesia the right to select the next Pacific Islands Forum Secretary-General, and the meeting endorsed Nauru’s candidacy. The Presidents also welcomed the planned visit of United States (US) President Joe Biden to a ‘Leaders’ Summit in the Pacific Region.’

Security Ties

The US has officially re-opened its embassy in Honiara. After close to thirty years of reduced diplomatic presence in Solomon Islands, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the move ‘symbolises a renewal of our relationship.’ Secretary of State Blinken said combatting the COVID-19 pandemic, promoting economic development, and addressing the challenges of climate change were key areas for strengthening cooperation between the two countries.

Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Colin Beck (right) with United States officials at a press conference in Honiara on 2 February 2023. Photo: Charley Piringi / AFP

Policing

Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea (PNG) have signed a bilateral agreement on the deployment of PNG Police Personnel to Solomon Islands. The Agreement was signed by Solomon Islands Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade Jeremiah Manele and PNG Minister for Foreign Affairs Justin Tkatchenko in Port Moresby. The Agreement formalises the deployment of members of the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary for peacekeeping or relief operations in Solomon Islands to maintain law and order and provide operational support. The cooperation framework can be triggered by a request from Solomon Islands.

Women from the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) get ready to march on White Ribbon Day. Photo: DFAT

Transnational and Organised Crime

New Zealand authorities have intercepted 3.2 tonnes of cocaine in the Pacific Ocean through Operation Hydros. The 81 bales have an estimated value of half a billion dollars and were floating in a net with flotation devices. New Zealand Customs Service acting comptroller Bill Perry noted that this seizure reveals how trans-national organised crime groups are ‘testing the markets in different ways,’ after Covid-19 impacts have constricted air and commercial movement in the Pacific. PSC Senior Fellow Jose Sousa-Santos said the Operation has given a ‘punch in the nose’ to what is likely the ‘largest syndicate in the region.’

Domestic Politics

Peaceful protests took place in Solomon Islands town Auki following the ousting of Malaita Province Premier Daniel Suidani. A motion of no confidence was passed by the Malaita provincial assembly against Suidani, a critic of the PRC and advocate for greater Malaitan autonomy. Police fired teargas on protesters and the situation de-escalated when Suidani encouraged his supporters to return to their homes. In an interview with The Sunday Guardian, Suidani stated that ‘I think the whole thing boils down to “The Switch” from the ROC to the PRC.’ The legality of the motion of no confidence remains before the Solomon Islands High Court.

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape speaking at a press conference on 12 January, 2023. Photo: Andrew Kutan / AFP

An inquiry into the 2022 Papua New Guinea General Elections has been announced. The in-house Committee will investigate all aspects of the electoral process, and key government departments responsible for the conduct and operations of the elections will appear before the Committee. Written submissions from the people of PNG are being accepted by the Committee, and public hearings beginning on February 21 will be live streamed on local TV.

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