US steps up Pacific engagement

The USA continues to step up its Pacific engagement in its attempt to counter China’s influence in the region. Most recently we have learned that President Joe Biden is expected to visit Papua New Guinea en route to a meeting of the QUAD leaders in Sydney later this month. President Modi of India will be in PNG at the same time to host the next meeting of the Forum for India-Pacific Cooperation.

During his very short stay (three hours) in Port Moresby he will meet with the leaders of the 18 members of the Pacific Islands Forum. It is the first time a sitting President has visited PNG.

In addition, the USA has announced that it intends to open an embassy in Tonga. This is in addition to new embassies announced for Vanuatu and Kiribati. It will be a significant increase to Washington’s diplomatic footprint in the region.

Calls to enlist Pacific islanders into the Australian Defence Force

Not for the first time, there have been calls to enlist Pacific islanders into the Australian Defence Force (ADF). Currently, it is not possible for non-citizens to serve in the armed forces of Australia. This initiative envisages allowing Pacific islanders to join up and offering an accelerated pathway to citizenship as an incentive.

This comes as the ADF faces a crisis of recruitment and retention, leaving it seriously understaffed considering what is anticipated in the Defence Strategic Review.

Whilst some have welcomed this proposal based on it creating economic and/or migration opportunities for Pacific people, others have raised serious concerns.

Previous experience of Fijian soldiers serving in the UK army and Micronesians serving in the US military have created concerns particularly in relation to welfare whilst serving and access to services for veterans.

Other Pacific News:

There is a new government in French Polynesia. Recent elections saw a pro-Independence government ushered into office. Led by former President, Oscar Temaru, the Tavini Huiraaritira party has long campaigned for independence from France.

In Vanuatu, Ms Viran Brown has been appointed as High Commissioner to Fiji. This is the first time a woman has been given such a role. She replaces Nikenike Vurobaravu who left the post to become President of the country.

In Marshall Islands, concerns are growing about the security of trust funds that provide compensation and other payments to people from Bikini who were affected by US nuclear tests. People are questioning the governance of these funds by a local council.

Tonga received mixed reviews during it Universal Periodic Review of human rights. Members praised the kingdom for progress on human rights issues. However, they also urged more effort to protect the rights of LGBTQI+ citizens and eliminate discrimination against women.

In Fiji, rugby is very much in the spotlight. The Fijiana Drua have overcome many challenges to retain the Super W Championship for the second year running. However, governance of the sport is still in question with an interim board recently appointed to the Fiji Rugby Union.


Tess Newton Cain is a Senior Research Fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute and project lead for the Griffith Pacific Hub.