Pacific island nations, courted by China and the US, put the superpowers on notice, telling the world’s two biggest carbon emitters to take more motion on climate change while pledging unity within the face of a growing geopolitical contest.
Leaders at a four-day summit of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), meeting in Fiji’s capital Suva, bristled at a Chinese try to split among the nations off right into a trade and security agreement, while Washington pledged more financial and diplomatic engagement.
The exclusive economic zones of the 17 forum members span 30 million sq km (11.6 million sq miles) of ocean – providing half the world’s tuna, the most-eaten fish. The nations are also feeling among the severest effects of climate change as rising seas inundate lower-lying areas.
On the PIF summit that ended on Thursday, leaders adopted language several members have utilized in declaring a climate emergency, saying this was supported not only by science but by people’s every day lives within the Pacific.
A communique, yet to be released, shows the nations focused on the following United Nations climate conference, COP27. They may push for a doubling of climate finance to flow from big emitters to developing nations inside two years, money they are saying is required to adapt to rising sea levels and worsening storms.
The communique, seen by the Reuters news agency, also calls for meaningful progress at COP27 on financing for the “loss and damage” to vulnerable societies that can’t adapt and might want to relocate communities – a battle lost ultimately yr’s global climate talks.
“What matters most to us is we secure daring commitments from all countries at COP27 to phase out coal and other fossil fuels and step up finance to essentially the most vulnerable nations and advance causes like ‘loss and damage’ that matter dearly to essentially the most at-risk island communities,” Fiji’s President Frank Bainimarama told reporters.
“We simply cannot accept any lower than the survival of each Pacific island country,” said Bainimarama, the forum’s chairman.
Tuvalu’s Foreign Minister Simon Kofe, who literally made waves on the last global climate conference by standing knee-deep in seawater to point out what his country faces, told Reuters: “There’s technology available to guard the islands and lift the islands and that’s what we’re looking for. It is extremely costly.”
Because the Pacific summit was ending, Australian coal-mining stocks soared on expectations China could resume imports after a two-year political dispute halted coal shipments to the world’s biggest coal burner from its second-biggest exporter.
In contrast to the market’s bullishness, leaders within the forum’s thatched-roof headquarters discussed how one can cope with the statehood of individuals whose nation has sunk in rising seas, or rights to fishing grounds defined by their distance from a landmass that will disappear.
The communique cites an urgent need for assistance on debt vulnerability and the rising cost of food amid the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In a video address to the forum, US Vice President Kamala Harris pledged to triple funding to Pacific islands over a decade under a fisheries treaty, and open more embassies.
Pacific leaders at times showed irritation at the worldwide give attention to the competition between the Washington and Beijing over their region.
Australia, in tune, said less about security and pledged greater support for the climate change agenda of its neighbours, although maritime surveillance announcements to guard sustainable fishing hinted at its core anxiety.
“It’s harder for countries which are accountable for a lot of the illegal fishing then to argue they’ll support the region to stop illegal fishing,” Australia’s Pacific Minister Pat Conroy said in an interview, referring to China.
Economic ties to China
Australian officials privately say they are not looking for security selections within the region driven by economic ties to China, and although Pacific islands are sophisticated actors, they need funding support because many have historical debts to Beijing.
Fiji, for instance, has taken no loans from China since 2012 but continues to service export-import bank loans for Chinese infrastructure projects that may cost the federal government 40 million Fijian dollars ($18m) this yr, budget documents show.
Australian Strategic Policy Institute analyst Michael Shoebridge said Beijing has a record of “splintering regionalism”, drawing a parallel between its recent Pacific diplomacy and a platform it created a decade ago to interact with European countries and bypass the European Union.
Some leaders said in interviews that China provided economic opportunities that small island economies couldn’t ignore, although they agreed to work through the forum to remain unified of their response to great power competition, particularly on security, after disquiet that Beijing struck a security deal in April with the Solomon Islands.
The forum’s secretary-general openly criticised China’s bid to have about half the forum members sign a deal on trade and security in May that may exclude members with ties to Taiwan and exclude Australia and Recent Zealand. Leaders on the summit said it had been rushed without consultation.
China’s embassy in Fiji responded on Twitter on Saturday, saying Beijing had prepared and presented the end result document to Pacific islands a month ahead of a gathering of foreign ministers. Beijing has created a latest platform for cooperation with Pacific island countries through an annual meeting with its foreign minister, it said.