TESS NEWTON CAIN |
Compact talks restart in Marshall Islands
After a prolonged hiatus, negotiations between the United States and Marshall Islands on the future of Compact funding have resumed. The recently appointed special envoy, Joseph Yun met with President David Kabua. The meeting was held on the island of Kwajelen to maintain the Covid travel bubble that is in place in Marshall Islands.
The face-to-face meeting appears to have acted as a catalyst for increased activity. The two sides have announced that their intention is to sign a Memorandum of Understanding in September and to have concluded negotiations by the end of the year.
Marshall Islands is one of three countries that have compacts of free association with the USA. The others are the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau. The funding arrangements with Marshall Islands and FSM are due to expire in 2023. The funding mechanism for Palau comes to an end in 2024.
Australian Foreign Minister visits New Zealand and Solomon Islands
Foreign Minister Penny Wong of Australia has continued her busy travel schedule with visits to New Zealand and Solomon Islands.
In Wellington, she met with her counterpart Nania Mahuta. Issues relating to the Pacific islands region were high on the agenda of items that they discussed. Both Ministers stated that they want their countries to work together in supporting Pacific priorities and contributing to the strength of Pacific regionalism.
Minister Wong met with Prime Minister Sogavare whilst in Solomon Islands. She also had lunch with women leaders and visited the community at Burns Creek. During a press conference, Minister Wong said that she had been pleased to receive assurances from Prime Minister Sogavare that there would not be a Chinese military base established in his country. She also announced that Australia would provide 200,000 paediatric vaccines against COVID-19 to Solomon Islands.
Melanesian Spearhead Group progresses Regional Security Strategy
Ministers and officials from the Melanesian Spearhead Group have met to progress the Regional Security Strategy. The meeting was chaired by Fiji and hosted by Indonesia, which is an Associate Member of the group. The meeting was held in Bali.
The meeting has led to the refining of five priorities for security across the sub-regional grouping. They include securing maritime borders, strengthening cyber governance and addressing climate risks. A sixth priority suggested by Fiji is health security. This will now be considered by the working group.
The role played by Indonesia in this process, including providing funding, will raise concerns for some in Melanesia. The MSG has yet to convene a Leaders’ meeting to reconsider the application of the United Liberation Movement of West Papua to become a full member.
The wrap-up meeting for the development of the Regional Security Strategy is scheduled to be held in Fiji in September.
Saudi minister visits Pacific island countries
Adding to the growing list of high-level visitors to the Pacific islands region is Minister Aqeel Al-Khateeb of Saudi Arabia. He is the Minister for tourism in his country, and the first to hold that portfolio.
Minister Al-Khateeb travelled to Fiji, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Palau, and Vanuatu. His delegation based themselves in Fiji and flew to the other countries by private jet. The primary purpose of the Minister’s visit was to talk with Pacific counterparts and to ask them to support Saudi Arabia’s bid to host Expo 2030.
In Vanuatu, the Minister and Prime Minister Loughman discussed the further development of relationships between their two countries with a view to establishing diplomatic ties in the future. This round of visits by a senior member of a non-democratic country with a very poor human rights record does not seem to have excited concern by countries such as Australia, New Zealand or the USA.