TESS NEWTON CAIN |
US officials to visit Solomon Islands
The fallout from the announcement of a security agreement between Solomon Islands and China shows no signs of abating. There are now reports that Kurt Campbell will visit Honiara for urgent meetings on this matter. Mr Campbell is a senior official within the State Department and sits on the US National Security Council as coordinator for the Indo-Pacific.
This comes further to a visit to Honiara by two senior members of the Australian intelligence community. Paul Symon, who heads the Secret Intelligence Service and Andrew Shearer, who leads the National Security Council met with Prime Minister Sogavare. Further to this meeting Sogavare was reported has having considered it to have been positive and he restated that Australia was his country’s “partner of choice”.
Despite the high level of concern expressed by Western powers, there is no sign that Prime Minister Sogavare is about to change course on this issue.
Oceans summit in Palau
This week sees the USA and Palau host the 7th “Our Ocean” conference to be held in Koror. Whilst it was hoped that there would be an opportunity for the Pacific leadership to meet on the margins of this event, there are several leaders who will not be attending in person.
Perhaps most notable by their absence is the Prime Minister Bainimarama of Fiji. His government will be represented by the Attorney-General, Ayaz Sayed-Khaiyoum in Palau.
Several Pacific delegates gathered in Brisbane prior to boarding a charter flight to Palau provided by the government of Australia. Some of them held bilateral talks with the Australian Minister for the Pacific and International Development, Zed Seselja.
This is the first time that the conference has been held in the Pacific. It is an opportunity for political leaders, activists, and other stakeholders to come together to formulate concrete actions to safeguard the world’s oceans.
New Caledonia independence group calls for a fourth referendum
A group that supports independence for New Caledonia has called for a fourth referendum to determine the territory’s political future with a recommendation that the poll be overseen by the United Nations
Charles Washetine, leader of the pro-independence Palika group, made this call within the context of commenting on how France can maintain a strategic presence in the region, as a counter to the rise of China. His group supports independence plus a “favoured” relationship with France that focuses on issues including security and other key relationships.
Meanwhile, those who favour remaining a part of France maintain that the process envisaged by the Noumea Accord ended with the referendum that was held late last year. They do not accept the need for a fourth referendum. This is despite the fact that the very low turnout (43%) has led to several commentators calling the validity of the result into question.
New support vessel for the Pacific unveiled by Australian Defence
In 2018 the Government of Australia announced that it would procure a vessel specifically designed for disaster response work in the Pacific islands region.
That vessel has now been unveiled although it is not yet known when it will be available for use. ADV (Australian Defence Vessel) Reliant was purchased at a cost of US$67 million from a commercial shipping operator.
The vessel will be based in Brisbane to allow it to operate on a semi-permanent basis in the Southwest Pacific. This means ADV Reliant will be co-located with the stockpile of disaster response materials housed in Brisbane and will be able to deploy quicker than other vessels that are based in Sydney.
ADV Reliant is equipped to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster response inputs such as those we saw into Tonga further to the volcanic explosion and tsunami at the beginning of the year.
Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute and project lead of the Pacific Hub.