Contest in the Pacific


Geostrategic contests in the Pacific region have “elevated” over the past few years.

This was highlighted by newlyappointed Australian high commissioner to Fiji Ewen McDonald, when he appeared as a guest on The Fiji Times’ online news portal The Lens @177 last Friday.

He was asked whether the Pacific had become increasingly significant as a theatre for strategic competition mainly due to China’s bid to grow its political, economic, and security influence in the re-gion.

He said Australia had a long historical commitment to the region, which would continue well into the future.

“We’ve increased our funding here, but I think that reflects the commitment between us in terms of our partnership,” he said.

“In terms of the region itself, the development needs are large, so we certainly encourage all countries to contribute to the needs, but to do that in a way that’s aligned to the priorities of those countries.

“Australia’s own approach around that is we are very transparent in terms of our funding and what it’s been used for. We do a range of priorities that countries see as important, education, health, supporting women and girls.

“Not just infrastructure, not just those things that people can see but other things that are very important to the country — governance and those sorts of things.

But we do that aligned to the priorities.

“In terms of security, geostrategic contests have certainly elevated, I think that would be fair to say, in the region.”

McDonald said Australia had a view that security of the region was a matter for the region. That, he said, was the position reflected in the communique of leaders last year in Fiji, which talked about the region being responsible for its own security.

“The reason I think that’s very important is of course, we worked very closely together. We talked about the AFP together. We talked about defence together, so I think the region taking responsibility for its own security is very important.

“But of course, we are encouraging other partners to help with those development needs I talked about earlier, but not create situations for example where countries might be caught up in unsustainable debt, particularly at the moment.”

According to McDonald, Australia aligned its expenditure with the priorities of the countries, which revolved around security, climate and development of infrastructure among others.

“Sovereignty is a key thing for Australia. Countries make their own decisions, but we as Australia would encourage countries to be transparent in terms of those arrangements because they have the potential to impact on all of us in the region,” he said.