Pacific More Concerned With Climate Change Than China: Australian Defence Minister

The Australian Labor government is pinning its hopes on climate change policy as the key to winning over Pacific nations amid increasing geopolitical competition with Beijing.Top leaders have emphasised the Albanese government’s support of climate change action, including a higher emissions reduction target, as a key differentiator from the previous government. On July 12, Defence Minister Richard Marles said the biggest concern he was hearing from the Pacific region was the threat of climate change. “The Albanese government wants to make climate change a pillar of the [U.S.-Australia] alliance. Because it is clear climate change is a national security issue,” he told the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C. during a four-day trip to the United States. Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence Richard Marles speaks at the Shangri-La Dialogue summit in Singapore on June 11, 2022. (Roslan Rahman/AFP via Getty Images) “When you stand on the shores of our Pacific neighbours, as I have, you understand the intense vulnerability felt by those living on small islands. The Pacific Islands Forum, of which Australia is a member, has been consistent in declaring climate change as the single greatest threat to livelihoods in our neighbourhood—it is an existential threat,” he said. “The Pacific has been clear in saying that geopolitical competition is of lesser concern to them than the threat of rising sea levels, economic insecurity, and transnational crime. Australia respects and understands this position. And we are listening.” His comments echoed that of Foreign Minister Penny Wong and the Minister for International Development Pat Conroy, who attended the Pacific Island Forum meeting in Suva, Fiji. “The new Australian government is committed to bringing new energy and new resources to the Pacific, and we recognise, in particular, the importance of climate change,” she told reporters on July 12. Calls for Unity in Pacific Islands Forum Wong also called for unity following Kiribati’s recent decision to withdraw from the Forum. “Can I note that we are continuing to work towards greater unity, and I note the position that the president of Kiribati has articulated, and I say, along with all other members of the Forum, that we seek reconciliation, and the door remains open, and we hope that progress can be made there,” the foreign minister said. The Pacific Island’s decision has major implications for the effectiveness of the body, which was seen as a key bulwark against Beijing’s influence. South Pacific expert Cleo Paskal said some Pacific leaders, like President David Panuelo of the Federated States of Micronesia, worked hard to try to reform the Forum so it could more effectively counteract the Chinese Communist Party. The Forum has struggled to deal with ongoing discontent from Micronesian leaders who feel their interests are being sidelined. Read MoreKiribati Withdraws From Pacific Islands Forum, Further Weakening West’s Bulwark Against Beijing Paskal said it was “unsurprising” that Kiribati decided to withdraw from the Forum. “Clearly, Kiribati is perfectly fine with its relationship with China, and it sees no benefit being part of an organisation where it’s marginalised or feels that it’s marginalised,” she previously told The Epoch Times. Paskal also said that over the last three years, the Forum played a very minor role in dealing with four major crises in the region, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tongan volcanic eruption and tsunami, the riots in the Solomon Islands, and the institutional crisis around the University of the South Pacific. “The Pacific Island Forum just issued press releases but was not a major player in resolving any of those crises. So what does it do?” Meanwhile, U.S. leaders have ramped up their response to the weakening hand of democratic nations with an all-out diplomatic offensive. On July 12, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris announced the Biden administration would be dispatching the Peace Corps to the region, establishing new embassies in Kiribati and Tonga, appointing the first-ever U.S. Envoy to the Forum, and is looking at reestablishing a U.S. Agency for International Development Regional Mission for the Pacific to deal with natural disasters and humanitarian aid. Follow Daniel Y. Teng is based in Sydney. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at [email protected]

Pacific More Concerned With Climate Change Than China: Australian Defence Minister

The Australian Labor government is pinning its hopes on climate change policy as the key to winning over Pacific nations amid increasing geopolitical competition with Beijing.

Top leaders have emphasised the Albanese government’s support of climate change action, including a higher emissions reduction target, as a key differentiator from the previous government.

On July 12, Defence Minister Richard Marles said the biggest concern he was hearing from the Pacific region was the threat of climate change.

“The Albanese government wants to make climate change a pillar of the [U.S.-Australia] alliance. Because it is clear climate change is a national security issue,” he told the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C. during a four-day trip to the United States.

Epoch Times Photo
Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence Richard Marles speaks at the Shangri-La Dialogue summit in Singapore on June 11, 2022. (Roslan Rahman/AFP via Getty Images)

“When you stand on the shores of our Pacific neighbours, as I have, you understand the intense vulnerability felt by those living on small islands. The Pacific Islands Forum, of which Australia is a member, has been consistent in declaring climate change as the single greatest threat to livelihoods in our neighbourhood—it is an existential threat,” he said.

“The Pacific has been clear in saying that geopolitical competition is of lesser concern to them than the threat of rising sea levels, economic insecurity, and transnational crime. Australia respects and understands this position. And we are listening.”

His comments echoed that of Foreign Minister Penny Wong and the Minister for International Development Pat Conroy, who attended the Pacific Island Forum meeting in Suva, Fiji.

“The new Australian government is committed to bringing new energy and new resources to the Pacific, and we recognise, in particular, the importance of climate change,” she told reporters on July 12.

Calls for Unity in Pacific Islands Forum

Wong also called for unity following Kiribati’s recent decision to withdraw from the Forum.

“Can I note that we are continuing to work towards greater unity, and I note the position that the president of Kiribati has articulated, and I say, along with all other members of the Forum, that we seek reconciliation, and the door remains open, and we hope that progress can be made there,” the foreign minister said.

The Pacific Island’s decision has major implications for the effectiveness of the body, which was seen as a key bulwark against Beijing’s influence.

South Pacific expert Cleo Paskal said some Pacific leaders, like President David Panuelo of the Federated States of Micronesia, worked hard to try to reform the Forum so it could more effectively counteract the Chinese Communist Party. The Forum has struggled to deal with ongoing discontent from Micronesian leaders who feel their interests are being sidelined.

Paskal said it was “unsurprising” that Kiribati decided to withdraw from the Forum.

“Clearly, Kiribati is perfectly fine with its relationship with China, and it sees no benefit being part of an organisation where it’s marginalised or feels that it’s marginalised,” she previously told The Epoch Times.

Paskal also said that over the last three years, the Forum played a very minor role in dealing with four major crises in the region, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tongan volcanic eruption and tsunami, the riots in the Solomon Islands, and the institutional crisis around the University of the South Pacific.

“The Pacific Island Forum just issued press releases but was not a major player in resolving any of those crises. So what does it do?”

Meanwhile, U.S. leaders have ramped up their response to the weakening hand of democratic nations with an all-out diplomatic offensive.

On July 12, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris announced the Biden administration would be dispatching the Peace Corps to the region, establishing new embassies in Kiribati and Tonga, appointing the first-ever U.S. Envoy to the Forum, and is looking at reestablishing a U.S. Agency for International Development Regional Mission for the Pacific to deal with natural disasters and humanitarian aid.


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Daniel Y. Teng is based in Sydney. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at [email protected]