TESS NEWTON CAIN |
Solomon Islands and China eye closer security relationships
A leaked draft of a framework security agreement is the latest manifestation of an increasingly close relationship between Solomon Islands and China. The document has not been signed and it is not known if this version will be put to the cabinet for approval.
A press release from the government in Honiara sought to situate this development as a natural progression from the country’s National Security Strategy of 2020 and a “friends to all, enemies to none” foreign policy. Officials have indicated that they see this agreement as being similar to the security treaty between Solomon Islands and Australia, which has been in place since 2017.
The leader of the Opposition, Mathew Wale, has said that the proposed agreement with China is not in the national interest. The governments of Australia and New Zealand have issued statements expressing their concerns about this development.
Marshall Islands breaks ranks
The saga about who should be Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum and whether the Micronesian countries will leave or stay is not yet finished.
Last week, President David Kabua of Marshall Islands delivered another twist. There have been indications for a while that Marshall Islands was not wholeheartedly committed to the ‘our way or the highway’ approach of the Micronesian group. This has now been confirmed in a letter Kabua sent to President Lionel Aingimea (chair of the Micronesian Presidents’ Summit). In it, he has made a strong call for reconciliation and said that the group should withdraw its condition that Henry Puna step down as Secretary-General.
Kabua expressed his concern that Micronesian intransigence could cause irreparable damage to regionalism, and he did not want his people to be remembered as the ones who caused rifts that cannot be repaired.
Minister Mahuta’s visit to Fiji
NZ Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta is visiting Fiji this week. It is her first trip to the Pacific since she took on the foreign affairs portfolio and since New Zealand reframed its relationships with the region under its “Pacific Resilience” framework.
During the four-day trip, Minister Mahuta will meet with Fiji’s Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama. Prime Minister Bainimarama is also the Foreign Minister in Fiji and the Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum. Minister Mahuta will also attend a meeting at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and take part in a round table for women leaders. The Minister will also visit locations that host development projects funded by her government.
The visit comes further to a visit last week by New Zealand’s Defence Minister, Peeni Henare. Minister Henare met with his Fijian counterpart, Inia Seruiratu, and visited the newly opened Blackrock training facility.
COVID-19 outbreak continues in Vanuatu
The outbreak of COVID-19 in Vanuatu continues. Case numbers are rising fast. However, the levels of hospitalisation remain remarkably low. The authorities are yet to announce any loss of life because of the virus.
As we have seen elsewhere, the outbreak has prompted people to get vaccinated. Whilst an increase in vaccination rates is to be welcomed, there are concerns that long lines at clinics and centres are acting as super spreader events. Vanuatu has yet to commence vaccinations for adolescents, and there has been no announcement on when this will begin.
The government has announced further stimulus measures to support businesses for a six-month period. The Vanuatu National Provident Fund is providing emergency loans against members’ accounts.
Development partners have provided much-needed assistance by way of financial support and equipment, including PPE. In addition, Australia has provided a medical team to assist with frontline health management issues.
Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute and project lead of the Pacific Hub.