Pacific voices and security deals

By The Editorial Board 23 March 2023, 6:00AM

Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mataafa was diplomatic yet direct enough to drive a very important message through to the Australian government when she spoke at the Lowy Institute on Monday night in Canberra.

She said something that every Pacific nation wants to tell big brothers Australia, United States and United Kingdom and that is to have a listen to the Pacific nations before making security deals that affect the region as a whole.

If you do not know yet, Australia, United Kingdom and the United States have entered into a trilateral security deal named AUKUS.

It was first announced on 15 September 2021 for the Indo-Pacific region. Under the pact, the US and the UK will assist Australia in acquiring nuclear-powered submarines.

The pact also includes cooperation on advanced cyber mechanisms, artificial intelligence and autonomy, quantum technologies, undersea capabilities, hypersonic and counter-hypersonic, electronic warfare, innovation and information sharing.

The pact will focus on military capability, separating it from the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance that also includes New Zealand and Canada.

The International Centre for Defence and Security called the pact "a powerful statement about the priority of the Indo-Pacific" and as a statement "that the larger institutional groupings aren’t acting with the common purpose and speed that the current strategic and technological environment demands.”

Why is Australia in a rush to get the submarines and why does it concern the Pacific? It all started with China increasing its presence in the Pacific sparking a geopolitical race to see who the Pacific islands ally with.

The Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made a whirlwind tour of the Pacific, stopping over in almost all countries that have diplomatic ties with the nation. The tour happened after the Solomon Islands signed a security deal with China and while the deal may have been just to boost Solomon Island’s internal security, rumours of a Chinese takeover of the Pacific was fuelled by foreign media.

This also led to increased interest from Australia, New Zealand and the USA into the Pacific and since then embassies have opened in Pacific nations with the smallest of populations, more aid has come through from these countries and there has been a push for security deals with Pacific nations.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry tour party had asked Pacific nations to sign on a security agreement but this was when the region through the Pacific Islands Forum stood united and passed the message that any security dealing which may have a wider impact on all Pacific nations needs to be discussed at a regional level.

Pacific nations also agreed in the 2050 Strategy for a Blue Pacific Continent, the main document and action from the Forum Leaders Meeting in 2022 that even despite the sovereign rights of a nation, there will be consultation at a regional level when it comes to signing security pacts.

However, the AUKUS deal had been made way before the Forum leaders decided on their united approach to ward off any fears of a possible Chinese dominance in the Pacific through the alleged security deals which would have allowed the Red Army to make military bases in the Pacific.

The UD Indo-Pacific Command last year relayed its concern that a possible war could spill out into the Pacific as tensions between China and Taiwan and Korea and Japan intensified.

This is exactly what the Pacific nations do not want, war. World War II was a horrible reminder what war can do to the Pacific. Solomon Islands and the Guadalcanal War are grim reminders. This is why the Pacific nations have been asking Australia to consider listening to their voices when going into a deal which has wider impacts.

Fiame was on point when telling those present in Canberra that the voices of the Pacific nations should be heard. It is only clear that Australia is strengthening its naval presence with the submarine deal. A strong Australia will serve the Pacific well but why the need for the extra arsenal, that is what the Pacific wants to know.

The AUKUS deal seemingly compels Australia to fight if the USA goes to China and this brings the war to the Pacific. Samoa does not want this neither do any of the Pacific Island nations and this is why it is important that Australia listen to the Pacific nations if they enter into such security deals.

We are now seeing the impact of climate change, something the Pacific nations have been wanting a change in. If the bigger nations had listened from the start we would not be in a situation where global temperatures would keep on rising and we would have a safer planet to live on.

The same goes for security deals. Pacific nations may be small but we are affected by security deals that impact the whole of the Pacific. Therefore it is imperative that a little bit more attention is given to us and our voices are heard.

By The Editorial Board 23 March 2023, 6:00AM
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