Ministers nut-out shared security threats at South Pacific Defence meeting


Australia’s defence minister, Peter Dutton, has chaired a meeting with his counterparts from Chile, Fiji, France, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Tonga with a view to driving ‘more effective regional cooperation with partners’.

Dutton dialled into the virtual meeting on Friday, describing the South Pacific Defence Ministers’ Meeting (SPDMM) as an ‘important forum’ given the significant changes the regional security landscape was enduring.

“The SPDMM provides a platform to drive more effective regional cooperation with partners that share our interest in a peaceful and secure Pacific,” Dutton said.

Just last week former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott travelled to Taiwan to speak of the small fishing nation’s “struggle between liberty and tyranny” in China’s shadow, in a show of solidarity that could hint at the changing regional security realities Dutton referred to.

Pandemic response and post pandemic recovery was another agenda item the defence ministers canvassed, with Dutton saying that ‘a number of substantive outcomes were agreed’ to.

“The challenge of COVID-19 has underscored that we are stronger and more resilient when we respond to common challenges together.

“We shared lessons learned from our experience with pandemic management and discussed how to navigate defence cooperation in the new normal,” the minister said.

Dutton also announced that Australia has put its support behind a new Pacific-led initiative to develop a regional humanitarian assistance and disaster relief response framework, guiding the way that countries in the region work together in a disaster-response scenario.

He added that the cooperative exercise framework known as POVAI ENDEAVOUR would be ‘refreshed’ to enhance regional interoperability and how defence forces exercised together.

“We are increasingly standing by each other at times of need and a more structured capability will enable this,” Dutton said.

“An information-sharing arrangement was also agreed to, which will make it easier to exchange information of various forms.”

The group also agreed to grant Japan observer status for the next scheduled SPDMM meeting in Tonga next year.