Pacific Security Snapshot | 2 March 2023

Pacific leaders attend a welcome ceremony at the Pacific Islands Forum Special Leaders Retreat in Nadi on 23 February, 2023. Photo: Leon Lord / AFP

The security stories shaping the region

  • Pacific Islands Forum Special Leaders Retreat operationalises the Suva Agreement
  • Vanuatu finalises draft resolution on states’ obligation to prevent climate change
  • Pacific delegates advocate for legally binding marine treaty in New York
  • Australia and Kiribati strengthen cooperation in Tarawa
  • Federated States of Micronesia signs agreement with the United States ahead of renewed Compact of Free Association
  • Palau receives climate change funding from Taiwan
  • China launches its Pacific Disaster Risk Reduction Centre


The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Special Leaders Retreat took place on 24 February in Nadi, Fiji. The theme ‘Reflection, Renewal, Celebration’ was apt as the Leaders finalised the operationalisation of the Suva Agreement and welcomed Kiribati’s return to the Forum.

The Leaders at the Retreat set in force the positions made earlier this year at the Micronesian Presidents’ Summit relating to the Suva Agreement. This included the establishment of the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner in the Republic of Palau and the appointment of Dr Filimon Manoni of the Republic of the Marshall Islands as Pacific Ocean Commissioner. Further, the leaders approved the establishment of a new Sub-regional Office for the Pacific Islands Forum in the Republic of Kiribati. Regarding the rotation of the Secretary-General position, Former President of Nauru Baron Waqa will take on the role in 2024. Transitional funding for these changes of NZD$3 million will be covered by Australia and New Zealand. The implementation of the Suva Agreement signifies a reunited PIF, with outgoing Forum Chair and Prime Minister of host-nation Fiji Sitiveni Rabuka calling the retreat ‘a gathering of a family reconciled.’

Fiji’s Prime Minister and Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, Sitiveni Rabuka (L) attends the welcome ceremony at the Pacific Islands Forum Special Leaders Retreat in Nadi on 23 February, 2023. Photo: Leon Lord / AFP

The Leaders committed to advocating for Australia’s revised bid to host COP31 in 2026, which would be hosted in partnership with the Pacific if successful. The Leaders  requested that the Forum Secretariat investigates the establishment of a permanent Pacific Islands Forum Special Envoy Office in the United States of America. The purpose of the position would be to manage coordination within the United Nations and Washington in a context of increased interest in the Pacific Region. The findings of the Secretariat will be reported at the 52nd PIF Leaders Meeting, which will be hosted in the Cook Islands later this year.

Climate Change

Vanuatu was hit by severe Tropical Cyclone Judy, leaving a trail of destruction as power, communication lines and water systems were damaged. Heavy rainfall and thunderstorms are continuing. However, the country is expected to endure another cyclone, Kevin, soon. It is currently a category one cyclone but could intensify into category two or three and hit Vanuatu tonight.

The final draft resolution of the request for an International Court of Justice (ICJ) advisory opinion on the obligations of States in respect of climate change has been released. The resolution has been developed by Vanuatu, leading the 18 ICJ Champions Nations including the Federated States of Micronesia and New Zealand. The question aims to clarify international law regarding states’ responsibilities to protect human rights and prevent harm to the climate system. “We believe this is a critical step towards protecting the human rights of our young people and future generations,” Vanuatu’s Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau said. The Prime Minister has written to every state leader in the UN requesting their support, and the resolution is expected to be adopted by the UN General Assembly in March.

The government of the Republic of Palau has received a grant from Taiwan of US$1 million for Palau’s Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction Project. The Project includes the development of water tanks for delivering fresh water to communities and seawalls in Melekeok and Ngiwal. The grant is part of The Adaption and Contingency Fund for Climate Change, established by Taiwan to support its Pacific allies.

Children wade through floating garbage to reach their house as king tides inundate Funafuti Atoll, Tuvalu. Photo: Torsten Blackwood / AFP

Enviroment and Resources

The fifth session of the Intergovernmental Conference on the Biological Diversity Beyond National Jurisdictions (BBNJ IGC-5) has resumed in New York. Pacific delegates are urging leaders to establish a legally binding treaty on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond national borders. Speaking to the importance of an ocean mechanism that goes beyond territorial governance, Palau UN delegate Ilana Seid said, “‘We have to treat the ocean as one ocean.”

Delegates at The Intergovernmental Conference on the Biological Diversity Beyond National Jurisdictions in New York, 20 February, 2023. Photo: Yuki Iwamura / AFP

Security Ties

The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the United States (US) that outlines the framework for FSM’s third Compact of Free Association. This compact will see a large increase in the grants received by FSM in return for granting the US exclusive rights to maintain security assets in the Pacific nation. Since 2004, FSM has received an average of $US80 million a year in sector grants. Under the new compact, FSM will receive $US140 annually from 2024 to 2044.  “In the next compact period, we will be able to provide much better education, health and infrastructure services to our citizens,” FSM President Daniel Panuelo said.

Kiribati and Australia has also signed a MoU. Kiribati President Taneti Maamau met with Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong in Tarawa to sign the Tobwaan Te Reitaki MoU. In a statement, President Maamau outlined the three areas of corporation covered by the MoU: economic infrastructure, border protection and policing, and expanding support for law enforcement. Specific initiatives include upgrades to Kanton Wharf and Betio Port, construction of the East Micronesian Cable, and training in peacekeeping and cybersecurity. Kiribati and Australia have committed to signing a Comprehensive Bilateral Strategic Partnership Agreement in the future.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has opened the China-Pacific Island Countries Center for Disaster Risk Reduction and Cooperation in Jiangmen city. The program establishes a framework through which China will share data, develop future solutions through technology such as AI, and train emergency personnel at the home base. The recently appointed first envoy of the Chinese government on Pacific Island Affairs, Qian Bo, attended the launch ceremony.


The government of Kiribati has signed a MoU with Victoria University in Wellington to address high maternal and infant mortality rates. The five-year project will focus on teaching existing health professionals and students in Kiribati, along with in-country training to improve nursing practices and midwifery.  “The ultimate outcome of this partnership is to improve the health and livelihood of the people of Kiribati,”  Kiribati health minister Tinte Itinteang said at the signing. Kiribati has the highest infant mortality rate in the Pacific, with 50 deaths per 1000 live births. The nation also has the second highest maternal mortality rate, 92 deaths per 100,000 live births.

Trainee nurse Tekanrati Tito (left) with Nurse Patricia Demingauase at South Tarawa Hospital. Kiribati 2007. Photo: Lorrie Graham

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