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Diplomacy
Penny Wong and Kausea Natano

More than just a climate deal: The Australia-Tuvalu Falepili Union treaty and the EU’s potential contribution to the Pacific

by Manisha Reuter , Frédéric Grare

The Falepili Union treaty prioritises Tuvalu’s urgent concerns about climate change. As the EU looks to deepen relations with partners in the Indo-Pacific, it should tailor its offers to regional priorities  In early November, on the sidelines of the Pacific Islands Forum in the Cook Islands, Australia’s prime minister Anthony Albanese and Kausea Natano, his counterpart from Tuvalu, a Polynesian archipelago, announced that they would elevate their bilateral relationship to a more integrated partnership known as the Falepili Union. Under the Falepili Union treaty, Australia commits to Tuvalu’s safety – including through a special visa arrangement for Tuvalu citizens to migrate to Australia, as well as by uplifting its development assistance and support for Tuvalu’s climate adaptation efforts. In return, Tuvalu will mutually agree with Australia any security and defence partnerships it concludes with other states. Both countries also commit to protecting and promoting each other’s collective security and sovereignty. For Australia, the partnership is a way to help pull Tuvalu away from China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific. Security and defence partnerships include those on policing, border protection, cyber security, and critical infrastructure (such as ports, telecommunications, and energy infrastructure). Natano has downplayed the importance of Tuvalu’s obligation to consult Australia on its partnerships, saying that the treaty only requires his country to approach Australia first on military issues, but the clause gives Australia veto power over any security arrangement Tuvalu may be tempted to conclude with other nations. Despite the distance, the Falepili Union treaty did not go unnoticed in Europe. European officials have focused on the significance of the agreement in the context of the climate crisis, arguing that it highlights the need for all countries to drastically reduce carbon emissions. In the media, the treaty has sometimes been referred to as a strategic victory by Australia over China, though little if any attention has been paid to the actual security provisions. But the partnership holds important lessons about how to engage with potential partners in the Indo-Pacific. As an archipelago of nine low lying islands with their highest point just 4.5 metres above sea level, for Tuvalu – much like other South Pacific countries – climate change, not China, constitutes an existential threat. The Falepili Union illustrates the fundamental gap between the threat perceptions of big countries in the Indo-Pacific such as Australia, whose concerns are primarily strategic, and those of smaller and more vulnerable ones such as most South Pacific islands. These countries operate at a sub-strategic level, with their location their only real strategic asset, but one which larger countries cannot ignore. The Falepili Union treaty responds to Tuvalu’s vulnerability to the effects of climate change. It is not the first programme facilitating mobility in the Pacific. New Zealand’s “Pacific Access” visa category and Samoa quota resident visa enable 2,400 people to move from the Pacific to New Zealand on a permanent basis every year. The United States offers similar possibilities to eligible citizens of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and Palau to live and work in the US indefinitely. However, the Falepili Union treaty is the first agreement to link mobility explicitly to climate change, allowing migration in anticipation of climate-related disasters. It is also meant to help Australia deepen its ties with other Pacific countries by easing the critique that it should be embracing stronger climate action. The response by Pacific nations has so far been positive. Unsurprisingly, the US, New Zealand, and even Taiwan, have expressed their support for the initiative. But the Falepili Union has also been publicly backed by the prime minister of the Cook Islands, Mark Brown, and, more surprisingly perhaps, by the foreign minister of the Solomon Islands, Jeremiah Manele, whose country signed a controversial security partnership with China in 2022. There have also been speculations in diplomatic circles that Kiribati and Nauru might sign similar agreements with Australia in the future, with Australia’s foreign minister Penny Wong declaring that the Falepili Union “does signal how we are prepared to approach our membership of the Pacific family”. Taneti Maamau, Kiribati’s president, though, has so far been noncommittal about the possibility of concluding a similar treaty, saying that Kiribati has its “own strategies and [its] own initiatives”. No Pacific island wants to be drawn into a great power rivalry involving China, nor be coerced in any way by Beijing’s opponents. The treaty illustrates that the struggle with China for influence in the Indo-Pacific is not just about military power, but also about the capacity to assuage the anxieties of the Pacific states regarding their own survival and future. The Falepili Union should thus inspire Europeans to tailor their partnerships according to the needs and interests of countries in the region and provide them with attractive offers for cooperation. As Europe looks for ways to deepen partnerships in the region, it will find that many of the smaller island states’ own priorities overlap with Europe’s aims. It would thus make strategic sense for the European Union to prioritise climate adaptation projects, which also have the benefit of enabling knowledge transfers to and from Europe. It can use the EU strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and the EU-Pacific Green-Blue Alliance, funded through the Global Gateway to achieve these objectives. In addition to support designed to address the effects of climate change on island nations, the EU can also contribute to capacity building for monitoring, policing, and enforcement. Island nations in the South Pacific have limited capacities in these fields, which are crucial for guaranteeing their maritime security. The EU’s decision to extend CRIMARIO, an EU-funded initiative to help partners better govern their maritime spaces by enhancing Maritime Domain Awareness through information sharing initiatives, capacity building, and training is one example of what the EU can propose. Technical and financial capacities would offer South Pacific island states additional options to choose their partners and alleviate the pressure resulting from being caught in great power rivalry. Such an approach would also allow the EU to promote the “inclusive and effective multilateral partnerships” that are at the heart of its Indo-Pacific strategy. None of these steps bring absolute guarantees against an increased and potentially hostile Chinese presence in the region, but they nevertheless help reduce the strategic and political space in which Beijing can operate. The views and opinions expressed in this article solely belong to the author and do not represent the perspectives or stance of World and New World Journal, nor do they reflect the opinions of any of our employees. World and New World Journal does not endorse or take responsibility for the content, opinions, or information presented in this article. Readers are encouraged to consider multiple sources and viewpoints for a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter. Thank you for your understanding.

Diplomacy
Flag of New Zealand, 2023 Elections

The 2023 Election in New Zealand and its Foreign Policy Implications

by Robert Patman

Foreign policy has yet to feature significantly in New Zealand’s elections despite its obvious implications for national security and development. Internationally, observers are looking for what the elections will mean for policy towards AUKUS, the Ukraine War, and, crucially, climate change. The world is at an inflection point in history. Putin’s Russia is attempting to annex Ukraine, the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict has exploded again, China’s security pact with the Solomon Islands highlights a growing Pacific presence, and the tempo of climate change seems to be overwhelming efforts to counter the single biggest threat to life on earth. However, these issues have yet to feature prominently in the New Zealand general election scheduled for 14 October. The political campaigns of the two major parties, Labour and National, and those of the minor parties, the Greens, ACT and New Zealand First have largely focused on what they see as domestic concerns – inflation and the cost of living, crime, tax cuts, public services, and co-governance. To some degree, this reflects the fact the Labour and National leaderships have adopted a largely bipartisan approach to foreign policy Chris Hipkins and Chris Luxon say they support an independent, principled New Zealand foreign policy that is committed to advancing an international rules-based order that is enshrined in institutions such as the United Nations and norms such as multilateralism. Both leaders view Australia as New Zealand’s closest and most important ally, and declare their backing for international human rights, the expansion of free trade, the maintenance of a non-nuclear security policy, and a strong focus on the Indo-Pacific, especially the Pacific Island states region. In the area of defence, there is slightly more daylight between the major parties. Both Hipkins and Luxon recognise that a declining international security environment requires greater New Zealand defence spending. But Labour claims its defence spending commitment is more credible than that of National. For one thing, Labour’s NZD$4.7 billion capital investment in the defence sector during its six years in government is double what National did in nine years at the helm. At the same time, Labour has pledged to improve retention in the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) by tasking the Remuneration Authority to independently set pay rates and allowances for uniformed defence personnel. Furthermore, many New Zealand politicians and media commentators readily assume “bread and butter” domestic issues are simply more important to New Zealand voters than questions of foreign policy. It is almost as if domestic issues in New Zealand are somehow divorced from developments in the international arena, but that is a shaky assumption in an increasingly interconnected world. Whoever forms the next government of New Zealand will have to deal with at least three major “intermestic” issues that blur the boundaries between domestic and international policy, and to date have not received the attention they deserve in the 2023 election. First, the Putin regime’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has had significant economic and diplomatic consequences for the Indo-Pacific region and also for New Zealand. In the Indo-Pacific, Russia’s assault on Ukraine led to soaring prices for food and energy and a regional awareness that heavyweights like China and India remain important partners of Moscow. In New Zealand, the continuing volatility in international commodity markets has led to increased prices for imported goods and growing pressure on domestic inflation and business margins. Meanwhile, Russia’s Ukraine invasion – which flagrantly violates UN principles of state sovereignty and territorial integrity – confronts New Zealand with the greatest threat to the international rules-based order on which it critically depends. To date, New Zealand has contributed more than $70 million in humanitarian and military aid to Ukraine, but that amount pales in comparison with the scale of the aid provided by Australia and Canada to Kiev. This raises a key question for Kiwi voters. Is New Zealand providing sufficient military aid to Ukraine to safeguard a core national interest in helping to ensure Vladimir Putin’s land grab fails? Second, New Zealand faces a potentially momentous decision in relation to whether it should join the second pillar of AUKUS – the tripartite security partnership established by the US, UK, and Australia in September 2021 – to share information in state-of-the-art defence technologies to deter or counter China’s assertiveness. In March 2023, the Biden administration had indicated that the door was open for New Zealand to join the second pillar of this Anglosphere security partnership. New Zealand’s non-nuclear stance meant the country was not invited to participate in the first pillar of AUKUS, an initiative whereby the US and UK are committed to supporting Australia in acquiring nuclear-powered submarines over the next three decades at a cost of somewhere between AUD$268 billion and AUD$368 billion. The case for New Zealand’s membership of the second pillar rests on the conviction that Wellington needs to more closely align itself with like-minded democratic partners at a time of intensifying US-China rivalry and growing assertiveness by an authoritarian regime in Beijing in Indo-Pacific and beyond. However, partial membership of AUKUS does not sit comfortably with an evolving New Zealand identity based on non-nuclear security, closer ties with the Pacific, and a worldview seeking to strengthen, not merely uphold, an international rules-based order (through measures like UN Security Council reform) to enhance global security. To date, neither the Labour or the National leadership seem willing to adopt a clear position towards AUKUS before the October election. Third, New Zealand’s response to climate change has struggled to get much traction as an election issue. Like many countries, New Zealand has experienced cyclones, floods, wildfires, and other extreme climate-related events with increasing frequency in recent years. As a signatory to the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, New Zealand has pledged to reduce greenhouse emissions by 50 percent in 2030 but remains, according to the IMF, significantly off track to meet this target. This slippage, in turn, places a big question mark over whether New Zealand can reach a target – supported by all political parties except the ACT party – to achieve net zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050. As a major exporter of agricultural products, New Zealand clearly has a big economic stake in reversing the national and global impact of climate change. However, with the exceptions of the Green Party and Te Pāti Māori, New Zealand’s political parties, including Labour and National, generally seem to be putting short-term economic concerns above future climate needs. On balance, while political leaders and the media may have shown little interest in foreign policy during the 2023 election, the rise of “intermestic” issues that straddle aspects of both domestic and international affairs is likely to have a significant impact on the lives of New Zealanders regardless of how they vote.

Diplomacy
Rock Islands on the Pacific Ocean

China is playing the long game in the Pacific. Here’s why its efforts are beginning to pay off

by Graeme Smith

A week-long trip to Beijing by the Pacific’s most flamboyant statesman Manasseh Sogavare, was always going to cause concern in Canberra. The substance of the visit was as expected. The relationship between China and the Solomon Islands was upgraded to a “comprehensive strategic partnership” (on par with Papua New Guinea, the first Pacific nation to sign up to the Belt and Road Initiative). Nine agreements were also signed covering everything from civil aviation and infrastructure to fisheries and tourism. The Chinese premier, Li Qiang, who inked the deals with Sogavare, made a point of not mentioning the controversial policing cooperation agreement, the draft of which was leaked more than a year ago to New Zealand academic Anna Powles. Despite repeated calls from Australia and New Zealand to release the text of the policing agreement, there is no indication the Chinese or the Solomon Islands leadership will do so. There were also moments of theatre in Sogavare’s trip. The prime minister declared “I’m back home” when he arrived in Beijing in a clip posted by China Global Television Network. He then said in a longer interview on the same network that his nation had been “on the wrong side of history” for the 36 years it recognised Taiwan instead of the People’s Republic of China, and lauded President Xi Jinping as a “great man”. Sogavare saved his biggest serve for his return to the Solomon Islands, though. He accused Australia and New Zealand of withdrawing crucial budget support and hinted he would look to China to fulfil his ambitions to establish an armed forces, should Australia be unwilling to help.China’s slow start in the PacificSome key questions have been overlooked this week in the pantomime about what Australia should or shouldn’t do to shore up its relationship with an important Pacific partner. (We could start by accepting that Sogavare will never love us, and avoid getting into an arms race in the Solomon Islands with China.) What’s been somewhat lost, though, is how China has made inroads so quickly in a region that it still officially classifies as “peripheral”. China has certainly had to work harder to gain a foothold in the region. Relative to other regions, it has a lack of historical state ties with the Pacific. In Africa and Southeast Asia, China can draw on memories of shared anti-colonial struggles and aid projects like the Tanzam railway. In the Pacific, the Chinese Communist Party is a latecomer. Also holding it back is the remoteness and small population of the region. This has not made the Pacific a good fit for China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which has flourished in countries with rapid transport and communication links, substantial Chinese diasporas and leaders who are easily reached. Most of China’s own Pacific experts were baffled when the region was belatedly included in the project. Yet despite these obstacles, it’s clear the Chinese state’s approach in the Pacific has shifted, most remarkably in its diplomacy and the role state-linked companies are expected to play. Diplomats with serious intent China’s wolf warrior diplomacy has received plenty of attention, but the picture in the Pacific is less straightforward. The recently appointed special envoy to the Pacific, Qian Bo, undoubtedly styles himself as a wolf warrior. Under his tenure as Fijian ambassador, a Taiwanese representative was assaulted by Chinese diplomats for the crime of displaying a Taiwanese flag cake. Yet, other appointments suggest China is appointing higher-calibre diplomats to the region. These include Li Ming, the current ambassador to the Solomon Islands, and Xue Bing, the former ambassador to Papua New Guinea who now holds the challenging post of special envoy to the Horn of Africa. With experience in the region and good language skills, these diplomats have been more able to engage with Pacific communities than their predecessors, who largely focused on sending good news back to Beijing. More serious representatives suggest more serious intent.Chinese companies exerting influence, tooChina’s state-linked companies remain the driving force behind China’s engagement with the Pacific. Unlike the embassies, they are well-resourced and have skin in the game. Many company men (in construction, where Chinese companies dominate, they’re mostly men) are based in the region for decades, developing a deep understanding of how to win projects and influence political elites. Failed projects generate plenty of headlines, but many companies – such as COVEC PNG and China Railway First Group – are effective operators. They are building infrastructure cheaply in the Pacific and winning the favour of multilateral donors, particularly the Asian Development Bank. For larger state-linked companies, like China Harbor Engineering Company and the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), the geopolitical game has shifted. In the past, they could rely on their standing within the Chinese political system (their parent companies often outrank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) to resist pressure to act on behalf of state. Now, they are expected to carry geopolitical water for Beijing. Often this can benefit the companies. For instance, when CCECC lobbied the Solomon Islands leadership to switch their allegiance from Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China, it helped the company when it came to bidding for projects for the Pacific Games in Honiara. The leaders of these companies realise it can harm their image when they are seen as Beijing’s pawns. Yet, the companies, diplomats and Pacific leaders who choose Beijing’s embrace know times have changed. China is now a serious player in the region with a development philosophy to sell. It’s no longer enough to read Beijing’s talking points. You have to look like you mean it.