Smiles and unity at the Pacific Islands Forum mask tough questions shelved for another day

At the close of the Pacific Islands Forum the leaders emerged from their retreat smiling, cut a giant cake with a sword and then, in an impromptu moment of diplomatic bonhomie, posed for a selfie after Anthony Albanese whipped out his phone, Ellen DeGeneres style. It was, quite literally, a picture of harmony. “It’s been a very successful meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum,” said Albanese at his post-leaders’ retreat press conference. “We are family when it comes to the Pacific and there was a good spirit of cooperation and…

Solomon Islands PM rules out China military base and says Australia is ‘security partner of choice’

The prime minister of Solomon Islands has guaranteed there will never be a Chinese military base in his country, saying that any such deal with Beijing would undermine regional security, make Solomon Islands an “enemy” and “put our country and our people as targets for potential military strikes”. He has also said that Australia remains the “security partner of choice” for Solomon Islands and he would only call on China to send security personnel to the country if there was a “gap” that Australia could not meet. Speaking exclusively to…

‘We are family’: Anthony Albanese meets Solomon Islands PM amid tension over China deal

Anthony Albanese has met with the Solomon Islands prime minister in Suva to discuss their common interests of climate change and regional security issues, despite recent tensions between the two nations over China. It is the first time that Albanese has met Manasseh Sogavare. The relationship between the countries has become increasingly tense since the signing of the controversial security pact with China earlier this year, but ahead of the meeting Albanese reiterated the importance of the relationship and said it “will be even better after this afternoon”. The meeting…

Police remove two Chinese defence attaches from Pacific Islands Forum meeting

Two Chinese defence attaches have been kicked out by Fijian police from a Pacific Islands Forum meeting at which the US vice-president, Kamala Harris, was giving a virtual address. The men were sitting in on a session of the forum’s fisheries agency at which Harris announced the step-up of US engagement in the region, believed to be in response to China’s growing influence. They were sitting with the media contingent, but one was identified as a Chinese embassy official by Lice Movono, a Fijian journalist who is covering the forum…

Papua New Guinea election: what’s at stake?

In the coming days, Papua New Guineans will head to the polls to vote in the first national election in five years. A struggling economy, the impact of the pandemic and growing frustrations about failing public services are among the leading issues. The results of the election will be important not only to the country’s almost 9 million people, but also for the increasingly complex geopolitical landscape in the wider Pacific region. The election process Of the 2,351 candidates running in the national election, 118 members will be elected. Members…

China insists Tonga loans come with ‘no political strings attached’

China’s ambassador to Tonga has denied engaging in “debt trap” diplomacy in the Pacific, saying in his first press conference in two years that if the heavily indebted country cannot repay its loans, “we can talk and negotiate in a friendly, diplomatic manner”. Cao Xiaolin told Tuesday’s gathering in Nuku’alofa – a rare opportunity for journalists to question Chinese officials – that preferential loans from China came with “no political strings attached” and that Beijing would never force countries to repay the loans. Tonga, which was hit by a volcanic…

‘Things aren’t going back’: Australia braces for step-up in China’s Pacific push

The Australian government is bracing for China to step up its push to expand influence in the Pacific, with a senior figure privately conceding Canberra has a lot of work to do to regain lost trust and strengthen regional unity. Despite initial relief at a decision by Pacific island countries to defer a sweeping 10-country security and economic pact proposed by China, the Australian government now believes this may be only a temporary reprieve. “Things aren’t going back to the way they were,” said a senior Australian government figure who…

Samoa signs China bilateral agreement during Pacific push by Beijing

Samoa signed a bilateral agreement with China on Saturday, promising “greater collaboration”, as Beijing’s foreign minister continues a tour of the Pacific that has sparked concern among western allies. The deal’s details are unclear, and come midway through a Chinese delegation’s eight-nation trip – but an earlier leaked draft agreement sent to several Pacific countries outlined plans to expand security and economic engagement. The mission has prompted western leaders to urge regional counterparts to spurn any Chinese attempt to extend its security reach across the region. The Samoan government confirmed…

Cabinet committee blocked plan to double Australia’s support to Pacific, election-eve leak reveals

The Morrison government has been hit by an election-eve leak that cabinet’s national security committee blocked a proposal by the foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, to double Australia’s support to the Pacific. Labor said the “extraordinary” pre-election leak, first reported by the Australian newspaper, showed the government was “falling apart”, while Scott Morrison insisted the committee was “extremely tight”. The revelation was expected to trigger renewed debate about the government’s Pacific policy in the wake of China signing a security deal with Solomon Islands. Guardian Australia has confirmed that the…

New Zealand foreign minister blames ‘relationship failure’ for China-Solomons security deal

The shock over China’s security deal with Solomon Islands is evidence of “a relationship failure” , New Zealand’s foreign affairs minister has said, confirming that the pact took New Zealand, Australia and other Pacific nations completely by surprise. The deal marks Beijing’s first known bilateral security agreement in the Pacific. The text of the final deal is secret, but a draft leaked on social media in March granted Chinese military and police significant access to the country, allowing China to “make ship visits to, carry out logistical replenishment in, and…