Pacific Security Snapshot | 01 March 2024

The security stories shaping the region

➣ Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting (PALM) to be held in Tokyo in July 2024  

➣ 2023 warmest year on record, globally 

➣ Elections across the Pacific prompting changes to diplomatic relations and security arrangements 

➣ Extractive industries booming 

➣ Environmental conservation efforts ongoing 

➣ PNG riots shed light on policing and security arrangements  

Regionalism 

The Japanese government has announced it will host the Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting (PALM) in Tokyo in mid-July 2024, bringing together all 18 members of the Pacific Islands Forum. Priority agenda items will be climate change, infrastructure development, and security arrangements. These priorities continue to be dominant themes across the region. Concerns surrounding climate change are particularly prominent after 2023 was declared the warmest year on record globally, and the 3rd warmest year on record in the Western Pacific region. A Pacific-led research study has also found that a great majority of Pacific people will still be living and adapting to climate change in their homes in 2050. 

The security landscape of the Pacific continues to be characterised by evolving strategic arrangements. Prime Minister of Cook Islands, Mark Brown, has proposed a trilateral security relationship between Cook Islands, New Zealand and Australia. Nauru’s recent decision to sever ties with Taiwan and recognise Taiwan are indicative of significant changes to its diplomatic relations. There are several new MPs in Tuvalu following the recent elections, with possible implications for the recently signed Falepili Union. With multiple Island nations (Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Palau, Kiribati) facing elections in 2024, it remains to be seen how changing governments will navigate the security concerns facing the region. 

Environment and Resources 

Generating revenue through extractive industries is appealing due to the resource-rich contexts of the Pacific. The Porgera gold mine has reopened in PNG with PNG interests owning 51% of the venture. The mine was closed in 2020 after the government declined to renew the special mining lease which gave Barrick NL 95% ownership of the mine. Currently, Cook Islands is exploring the possible extraction modes for mining deep sea minerals. Supporters of deep-sea mining view it as a way to economically transition away from carbon-emitting energy sources, however, critics are concerned about the risk of environmental damage. 

Localised efforts to protect and preserve Pacific environments are ongoing. Palau has become the first member state of the United Nations, and first Pacific nation, to ratify the Marine Biodiversity Treaty. The Maungaroa Valley in Cook Islands is only one step away from being declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO. Meanwhile, the Solomon Islands government’s ban on single use plastics is due to come into effect on March 1, 2024, in an attempt to encourage the development of a market for sustainable alternatives to single-use plastics.   

 Policing 

In January, civil riots took place in Port Moresby after public servants and police ostensibly went on protest over pay cuts. Prime Minister James Marape declared a 14-day state of emergency following violence and looting that resulted in the death of 22 people. Prime Minister Marape faces calls for a vote of no confidence as a result of the political fallout in response to the riots. Delivering a historic address to the Australian Parliament in February, Prime Minister James Marape acknowledged that PNG aspires to become economically independent and move away from its reliance on foreign aid. PNG’s foreign affairs minister has declined to comment on a potential security and policing deal with China.

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