Pacific Security Snapshot: 2 May 2022

Accurate as of 12pm AEST Wednesday 27th of April

Welcome to the second edition of Security Snapshots; our summary of key security issues and events shaping the Pacific – and what lies ahead. This will be a short and snappy take on security across the Pacific region so you can stay informed of what’s happening in the Blue Pacific. It highlights a range of human and hard security developments as they unfold in our increasingly contested region. 

The signing of a security agreement between the Solomon Islands and China, has dominated regional headlines this fortnight, as leaders from Australia, USA and New Zealand expressed their concern over the deal’s geopolitical implications.

Although a draft agreement was leaked on social media in March, news of the official signing of the agreement emerged on Tuesday the 19th April. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman stated that the purpose of the cooperation was to promote social stability, long-term peace and security within the Solomons. Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare sought to reassure countries that he would not allow China to build a military base in the country. However, Opposition Leader Matthew Wale has questioned the secrecy surrounding the deal, as it is unlikely that final text of the agreement will be released.

The deal was signed before America’s most senior Indo-Pacific diplomat Kurt Campbell visited Honiara. Campbell in a meeting with Prime Minister Sogavare, reiterated American concerns about a Chinese military presence in the Solomon Islands, saying the USA would ‘respond accordingly’ to any such base being established. Campbell also visited Fiji and PNG on his trip. Australia has gone further with its rhetoric, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and  Foreign Minister Marise Payne stating that a Chinese base would cross a ‘red line’.

Pacific leaders have also reacted to the agreement. Tonga’s Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni has said his country will closely monitor the situation in the Solomon Islands, and will raise the issue at the next Forum Leaders meeting. PNG Prime Minister James Marape highlighted similar concerns and reiterated a desire for the matter to be discussed at the next leaders meeting. FSM President David Panuelo meanwhile criticized the deal, highlighting its capacity to fragment the region.

In the French Pacific, Emmanuel Macron has won the French ballot over far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, securing a majority in all three French Overseas territories in the Pacific. Despite this, in New Caledonia, turnout was low, with just 34.79% of the population voting, in-part fuelled by an organised abstention call from pro-independence groups.

Fiji’s High Court recently ordered the $700 million Russian superyacht Amadea, to stay at port in the country. The yacht is alleged to be owned by Russian oligarch and close friend of Vladmir Putin, Suleiman Kerimov, who is currently being sanctioned by the United States. In a federal hearing, the USA requested that the matter be dealt with in chambers. A judgment is expected early next month. Fiji has also announced in partnership with Australia, the construction of a new naval base in Lami, Fiji. The base will be named after current Fijian Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama.

In Port Moresby, leaders from PNG and Bougainville signed the Era Kone Covenant. The Covenant details how the national parliament will ratify Bougainville’s independence referendum results and sets out a timeline for the process, giving 2027 as the deadline for results to be nationally verified. In other PNG news, the Australian branch of UBS could be banned from the country for 10 years, following its involvement in brokering a 1.2 billion dollar loan that resulted in a $US432 million dollar loss to the government.

Tuvalu has rescinded its support of deep sea mining in its waters. Although initially sponsoring mining firm Circular Metals Tuvalu to apply for an exploration permit, the Government has reversed its stance on the matter. Foreign Minister Simon Kofe, cited a need for his country to set high standards on environmental issues and deter others from committing environmental damage.

In the North Pacific, Palau hosted the Our Ocean Conference from the 13th – 14th  April; the first time that the event was held in the Pacific. 410 commitments were made by various organisations to the value of 16.35 billion USD. The implications of the conflict in Ukraine have continued to reverberate in the North, as fuel prices skyrocket. In the Marshall Islands, the cost of fuel has hit US$7 a gallon in the capital Majuro and has increased to $10 on outer islands.

FSM submitted its proposed compact association package to Washington for approval, seeking increased funding, environmental assistance and infrastructure benefits. Both parties have expressed their willingness to come to an agreement, and continue their ‘enduring partnership’.

Finally, construction has started in Kiribati on a USD$63.87 million water project, which in five years, is expected to provide clean water to over 60,000 people in South Tarawa.

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