Pacific Security Snapshot | 29 September 2023

The security stories shaping the region

  • ➣ 2nd United States-Pacific Islands Forum Summit 
  • ➣ Niue and Cook Islands forge diplomatic ties with United States
  • ➣ Chinese navy vessel arrives in Papua New Guinea
  • ➣ Pacific climate change advocacy at the United Nations
  • ➣ El Niño is officially declared
  • ➣ Fifteenth Pacific Health Ministers Meeting in Tonga
  • ➣ HIV and tuberculosis cases increase in Papua New Guinea


Representatives from all Forum Island Countries attended the second United States (US)-Pacific Islands Forum Summit in Washington, D.C from 25-26 September. The summit was a reaffirmation of the Declaration on U.S.-Pacific Partnership issued in September 2022, with US President Biden making new commitments totaling a $US200 million increase in funding to the region. Subject to congressional approval, this funding covers an array of non-traditional security activities including projects dedicated to mitigating climate change impacts, sustainable fisheries management, improving public health, enhancing access to ICT infrastructure and strengthening economic growth in the region. Conventional security issues are addressed through funding an expanded US Coast Guard presence in the Pacific and strengthening port security and customs, counter-trafficking and anti-money laundering efforts.

Notable absences from the summit included Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and Vanuatu Prime Minister Sato Kilman, the latter due to a vote of no-confidence being presented to Parliament. Prime Minister Sogavare clarified his decision to be in Honiara rather than Washington in a press conference, stating there are “issues more important” to attend to domestically. Prime Minister Sogavare also criticised the limited speaking time given to Pacific leaders at the summit compared to his bilateral meetings with other world leaders, including with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and People’s Republic of China (PRC) President Xi Jinping, stating that the US must demonstrate “more respect to Pacific leaders.”

Prior to the summit, Niue and Cook Islands established diplomatic ties with the US. Cook Islands Prime Minister and Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Chair Mark Brown said, “These milestones celebrate eras of change and demonstrate that with unshakable resolve and leadership, remarkable achievements are possible.”

Chinese naval training ship Qi Jiguang has docked in Port Moresby on a ‘good will mission’ to Papua New Guinea (PNG). The 300 personnel will visit schools and participate in sporting competitions while in PNG. PNG Defence Minister Win Bakri Daki told The National that the PNG-China relationship “goes a long way back” and benefits include support to PNG “infrastructure, economic and human development especially for our military.” The vessel’s next stop is expected to be Fiji.

Climate Security

Pacific leaders presented a united stance on climate action at the 78th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York this month. The theme: Rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity: Accelerating action on the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals towards peace, prosperity, progress and sustainability for all. Forum country representatives used their addresses at the general debate to highlight how climate change is impeding the Pacific region’s ability to reach Sustainable Development Goals, with Palau President Surangel Whipps identifying climate change as the “most significant challenge” preventing progress. The need to keep within 1.5 degrees Celsius warming and reduce emissions was, once again, echoed by Pacific delegates. Leaders further urged developed countries to meet and increase funding to climate change mitigation, loss and damage, with President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands David Kabua calling on donors to “come together to address the climate finance crisis.”

Sandbags line the beach at a Tuvalu Coastal Adaptation Project worksite in Funafuti. Photo: Samuel Phelps / DFAT

As delegates called for enhanced global climate commitments at the UN headquarters, the climate pattern El Niño was officially declared back home. Impacts vary across the Pacific region, with countries located in the southwest Pacific experiencing lower than normal rainfall whilst countries in the central and eastern Pacific can expect increased rainfall. Other anticipated climate impacts include increased cyclone events and drought. The Vanuatu Meteorological and Geo-Hazards Department (VMGD) is advising people to prepare for food and water shortages as drier conditions are expected in the country. VMGD principal scientific officer Glenda Pakoa told RNZ Pacific that potential health implications include increases in cases of diarrhea as people look for alternative water sources. Food and economic security are also at stake, as the increased risk of coral bleaching and impact on tuna catch threaten subsistence and commercial fishing across the region.

Human Security

The Fifteenth Pacific Health Ministers Meeting (PHMM) took place in Tonga on 20-22 September. Ministers and delegates from all FICs met in Nuku’alofa, committing to 26 actions to address priority health issues and requesting support on 20 development partner actions. The priority health issues are rethinking human resources for health; tackling the drivers of obesity, particularly for children and young people; advancing health sector information and digital transformation; and strengthening health system resilience. Challenges explored included the regional shortage of health workers, rising rates of obesity, preparing for future pandemics and managing climate change-related diseases and disasters.

A nurse at a COVID-19 isolation centre prepares for the day in Papua New Guinea, 2021. Photo: Roan Paul.

In further human security reporting, HIV and tuberculosis (TB) infections are on the rise in PNG. Business for Health Director Ann Clarke told RNZ Pacific that the latest UNAIDS snapshot on HIV in PNG revealed a 91% increase from 2021 reporting, with 6,500 new infections. TB poses an additional threat to life, with Clarke saying the disease has caused “more deaths last year than we have ever had.” High rates of community transmission of TB in PNG are life-threatening, as someone unaware of their HIV status is also at risk of dying of TB. Clarke said the solution is promoting awareness on the utilisation of medical services in PNG, where patients who present for one type of test are offered dual testing for both HIV and TB.

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