Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa is adamant that when it comes to the issue of security for nations of the Pacific region, they can take care of their own problems.
In an interview with Reuters during her first official visit to New Zealand Fiame said that Pacific security issues can and should be dealt with by regional nations.
“We need as a region to deal with the (security) issue in the broader context of what we already have in place,” she said.
China has moved to deal with individual governments on security matters as in its recent security agreement with the Solomon Islands.
Reuters says China’s growing influence in the Pacific and the potential for militarization in its small island nations has fanned concerns among neighbors Australia and New Zealand as well as their ally, the United States.
It has not been lost on Fiame who said everyone’s interested in China with a huge market and purchasing power.
A high level Chinese official travelled through the region recently promoting a regional co-operation plan amongst some Pacific nations but Pacific leaders have yet to agree to the plan.
Fiame has questions for the Solomon Islands on its agreement with China.
“I think it’s a fair question when the leaders come together to say to the Solomon Islands: ‘Were we not enough? Were the provisions already in place not sufficient?’” she said.
“It’s not just for the Solomons, because it may occur in other parts of the Pacific.”
She said even if China’s proposal had been a bilateral pact Samoa would have wanted to further consider the benefits it would bring the country and its partners.
Fiame also had words for traditional Pacific partners Australia and New Zealand saying the region was increasingly contested and China has had a long presence as a diplomatic and economic partner.
“What I don’t like is if there are elements of racism in the discourse,” she warned.
The region was no longer just part of the “Blue Pacific” narrative but combined in the much larger Indo-Pacific and needed a greater say, she said.
Fiame observed America now wants to essentially come back, referring to the United States’ renewed interest in the region after years when many felt neglected by the country.
As an example, Fiame told Reuters that Pacific countries had not been consulted on the creation of AUKUS, a security grouping announced last year that includes Australia, Britain and the United States, and she felt they should have been.