Australia and New Zealand have signed on to an expanded security deal with the their smaller Pacific neighbours.
The adoption of the declaration formed the major event on the last day of the 18-nation Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru on Wednesday.
Dubbed the Boe Declaration, the agreement expands on an 18-year-old pact by Pacific leaders to now cover “non-traditional” regional security areas such environmental security, cyber crime and human security, according to New Zealand’s government.
In acknowledging climate change as a major threat, it also recognises concerns that have been the key priority for Pacific leaders at the meeting.
“The Boe Declaration acknowledges additional collective actions are required to address new and non-traditional challenges,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.
“Modern-day regional security challenges include climate change, cybercrime and transnational crime.”
But she also hinted at the well-publicised anxieties that have been the background to this years’ forum.
“The Pacific is also becoming increasingly complex and crowded,” she added.
A statement from the leaders of the forum’s smaller member nations this week acknowledged growing interest from “traditional and non-traditional partners” while also stressing a need to focus on climate change issues.
Western powers, including New Zealand, have this year expressed concerns about the growing influence of new players – particularly China – in the region, particularly through billowing infrastructure loans.
That’s left Canberra trying to tighten its relationships with countries that have long been natural partners.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne, while representing Australia in Nauru, said countries giving loans needed to be adopting Australia’s benchmarks for boosting security and stability, in what appeared to be an indirect criticism of China’s loans.
As part of the security agreement on Wednesday, she announced the establishment of a Pacific centre to assist authorities in collating information to combat illegal fishing, people smuggling and narcotics trafficking.
Australian ministers this week also tried to ease concerns among Pacific leaders about Australia’s seriousness on climate change, saying the government was still committed to its reduction targets despite the collapse of legislation.
New Zealand, meanwhile, in March launched its “Pacific reset”, a broad plan that included a massive increase in its aid budget for the Pacific and a goal of changing its relationship with smaller Pacific neighbours from donor-recipient to a partnership.
Both nations have announced a series of development contributions during the forum this week, covering areas such as climate change, medicines and health, education, employment and election funding for various member states.