Pacific News Minute: New Pacific Islands Security Pact

Jul 12, 2018

Pacific Islands Forum logo
Credit Henning Blatt / Wikimedia Commons

Australian media report that members of the Pacific Islands Forum will sign a new security pact at this year’s summit in September. A Chinese newspaper said that if the agreement is aimed at containing China, that would be a strategic mistake.

The new agreement comes amid a concerted Australian campaign to counter Chinese influence on several fronts.

In an interview with the newspaper The Australian, International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells described the pact as a framework to allow Pacific countries to respond to emerging threats. It covers security, law and order, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, environmental security and climate change resilience. 

In an editorial published Monday, China’s Global Times said it’s a strategic mistake if it’s aimed at China.

“China’s emergence is an irreversible trend,” the editorial said, “and any attempt to contain the country’s growth runs contrary to the trend of the times.”

News of the pact came as Australia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands signed a deal to connect the three countries with 2,500 miles of undersea cable. The original contractor was China’s telecommunications giant Huawei; Australia objected on grounds of national security.

Australia's Parliament House, Canberra
Credit JJ Harrison / Wikimedia Commons

Now, an Australian company gets the 100-million-dollar contract and Australia will pay the bill as part of its foreign aid program. Few will miss the contrast with most of China’s infrastructure deals in the Pacific, financed by Chinese loans and described by critics as debt trap diplomacy.

It’s not clear if all members of the Pacific Islands Forum will sign the new security agreement; Fiji’s prime minister Frank Bainimarama deeply resents Australia and New Zealand’s outsized influence on the Forum.