Pacific Security Snapshot | 25 May 2023

The security stories shaping the region

  • Papua New Guinea and the United States sign Defence Cooperation Agreement
  • United States-Pacific Islands Forum Dialogue held in Port Moresby
  • Pacific leaders meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
  • Pacific call for climate finance breakthrough at UN session
  • Tuvalu strengthens efforts against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing
  • Pacific transport ministers discuss clean transport strategy


Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the United States (US) have signed a bilateral Defense Cooperation Agreement in Port Moresby. The 15-year security pact was inked during US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit, who replaced US President Joe Biden for the US-Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Leader Dialogue. PNG Prime Minister James Marape touched on the military and economic aspects of the deal, declaring “we will see US soldiers in our country. We will see US contractors in our country.” Prime Minister Marape spoke to the benefits of a separate ship-rider agreement, which will see the US Coast Guard patrol PNG waters to help combat security issues including illegal fishing and drug trafficking.

The US-PNG security pact has received support from other Pacific countries. However, university students led domestic protests against the pact. Prime Minister James Marape has responded to concerns, stating “This signing today in no way shape or form encroaches into our sovereignty … [or] terminates us from relating to other defence relationships or bilateral relationships we have.”

PNG Prime Minister James Marape and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a press conference held in Port Moresby on May 22, 2023. Photo: Andrew Kutan / AFP

At the US-PIF Leader Dialogue, Secretary of State Blinken announced a forthcoming Department of Commerce business delegation to the Pacific, which will look at opportunities in energy, transport, health care, tourism and telecommunications. Secretary of State Blinken reiterated the US’ commitment to supporting the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent and stated that “America’s future is here in the Pacific.” Acknowledging President Biden’s absence, Pacific leaders were formally invited to attend a second US summit with the President in Washington later this year.

On the same day as the US-Pacific meeting in Port Moresby, the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC) Summit took place. Attended by leaders of 14 Pacific Island nations and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the developments of the meeting have been welcomed. A key outcome of the summit is the construction and operation of a regional specialist cardiac hospital in Fiji. Further support through sea ambulances, dialysis clinics, desalinization or water supply support and solar projects will be provided for all members of FIPIC. India also committed to fund scholarships for Pacific students over the next five years, largely dedicated to qualifications in the field of information technology.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivering his opening remarks at the FIPIC Summit in Port Moresby on May 22, 2023. Photo: Adek Berry / AFP

Climate Change

Pacific delegates attended the 79th session of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP) in Bangkok this month. Leaders and stakeholders met to discuss policy and regional cooperation options under the theme of ‘Accelerating climate action in Asia and the Pacific for sustainable development.’ PIF Chair and Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown’s statement to the session reiterated that the Pacific are among the first to experience destructive climate change impacts despite the region’s “inconsequential” carbon footprint. Prime Minister Brown advocated for a breakthrough in climate finance to address “the overwhelming financing gap that continues to erode the legitimacy of the Paris Agreement.” The session endorsed 10 resolutions dedicated to combatting climate change and its impacts, including the implementation of early warning systems, promoting clean energy technologies and enhancing the use of climate change-related statistics.

The focus on climate finance continued back home at the Fifth Pacific Regional Energy and Transport Ministers’ Meeting in Port Vila, Vanuatu. The concluding Efate Outcome Statement acknowledged the “limited financial, technical and human capacity” of Pacific states in pursuing a transition away from fossil fuels, requesting development partners support for Pacific nations in accessing grant-based finance to accelerate decarbonization in the region. The statement called for the establishment of a Pacific Energy Commissioner to negotiate and advocate for these energy issues on behalf of the region. The commissioner proposal will be brought to the PIF Economic and Ministers Meeting and the Leaders’ Summit later this year.

Environment and Resources

Tuvalu has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with marine conservation organisation Sea Shepherd Global. The first of its kind for a Pacific nation, the MoU stipulates that Sea Shepherd Global will send the 54.6-meter Allankay to support Tuvalu in combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the nation’s EEZ. The Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) estimates that the region loses around $US600 million ($A900 million) annually due to IUU fishing. Tuvalu’s sole patrol boat is currently being repaired in Australia due to cyclone damage sustained earlier this year, with Tuvalu’s Minister of Justice, Communications and Foreign Affairs Simon Kofe noting the MoU “could not come at a better time.”

A net filled with tuna being hauled onto a fishing boat off the coast of Marshall Islands. Photo: Giff Johnson / AFP

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