Ben Morgan’s Pacific Update

A simple explanation of this week’s military and political developments in the Pacific


Samoa receives new patrol boat from Australia 

Australia recently delivered a new Guardian Class patrol boat to Samoa. The new Nafanua 3 replaces another Guardian Class vessel, the Nafanua 2, that ran aground and was damaged beyond repair in 2021.

Built by Australian company Austal, Guardian Class patrol boats are specifically designed for surveillance, fisheries protection and law enforcement activities.  Australia donates patrol craft to Pacific nations as part of its Maritime Security Programme.  This programme follows a similar programme that ran from 1987 – 1997 both programmes providing patrol boats designed to increase the capacity of Pacific nations to manage their own large exclusive economic zones.  By increasing the patrol capabilities of smaller nations, Australia aims to reduce reliance on its navy to police the Pacific. 

However, the programme has its critics most of whom are concerned about the ability of small Pacific nations to successfully operate and maintain the patrol boats.  An expensive and technically demanding activity that often requires Australian support.  

Guardian Class vessels are about 40m long, can cruise at 12 knots and have a range of approximately 5,000km providing a very useful patrol capability.  The boats are designed for ease of maintenance and can be used for a wide range of duties including surveillance, law enforcement and rescue missions.   The deal also supports Australia’s defence industry, a strategically important sector.  By using contracts like this to build the capacity of Australian companies, Australia is helping to secure its own supply of equipment and is developing a defence sector with the potential to attract foreign customers.  

Australia to support Pacific cyber security

Australia has announced additional support for cyber security in the region. The federal government committing $ 26 million towards establishing expert teams that can deploy across the Pacific to support local response to cyber-attacks.   

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Australia is concerned about the vulnerability of smaller Pacific nations to cyber-attack; some recent examples include:

  • This year Tonga’s state-owned telecommunications provider was the target of a cyber-attack.
  • In 2022, Vanuatu suffered a large ransomware attack against several government departments.
  • Papua New Guinea’s government pay system was attacked using ransomware in 2021. 

The frequency of these attacks is increasing and they contribute to instability in the region. In small nations that struggle to maintain trust and confidence in their state institutions, large cyber-attacks undermine public confidence.  It is vital that they are quickly and effectively addressed so that people retain their confidence in government.  If people see a swift and effective response to a cyber-attack it builds confidence in state institutions. By supporting Pacific nations to defend against, and respond to cyber-attacks Australia is making a significant contribution to security in the region.  

Fiji Prime Minister discusses Chinese infrastructure development aid

Fiji’s Prime Minister, Sitiveni Rabuka discussed meeting with the Chinese President Xi Jinping and said that he hopes to work with China to redevelop Fiji’s shipyards and ports.  

Fiji has a long history of economic cooperation with China, although recently Prime Minister Rabuka has tended to back away from this relationship. The comments related to sideline discussions with President Xi at the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference in San Franscisco. 

In June, we highlighted how Sino-American competition creates a new diplomatic tension in the Pacific because the region’s small nations are strategically located and can provide bases if Sino-American competition becomes conflict.  This makes them important to China, the US and other large powers with Pacific ambitions. So important, that the leaders of the world’s smallest nations have spent 2023 shuttling to discussions with the two most powerful people in the world; President’s Biden and Xi.  Further, these nations are all being offered embassies, development aid, financial support and defence partnerships. 

This tension is both dangerous and an opportunity, for instance Solomon Islands recently hosted the Pacific Island Games and 80% of the cost was sponsored by donors.  It was also probably the most secure sporting event in history as Chinese and Australian police and service personnel deployed to the nation.   Both nations demonstrating their willingness to support Solomon Islands. 

Fiji appears to be keeping its options open and making sure that it can work with both sides to get the best possible deal for Fiji.  It maybe that the US responds by offering its own aid package to keep China out of Fiji; or perhaps China and Fiji will collaborate. Either way Fiji is likely to leverage a better deal than trying to finance building new port and ship yard facilities itself.  This type of diplomatic bargaining is likely to increase in the region.

Melanesian update 

A regular update on the Pacific’s least reported trouble spot; Melanesia. 

French military provides regular transport support in New Caledonia 

The French government announced this week that a regular military transport service is starting in New Caledonia. The service will use the Airbus Atlas A 400, a tactical transport that’s role is roughly equivalent to a Lockheed Hercules C-130 transport. However, the Atlas is much larger carrying a maximum load of 37 tonnes compared the 19-tonne payload of the Hercules.  The regular rotation of aircraft like this to New Caledonia will provide a considerable logistic capability to France’s colonial government. 

Atlas deployments will be bi-monthly and provide support to the government and France’s garrison in Melanesia.  This activity is a physical demonstration to Melanesian and Pacific nations that France is active in the area and is committed to providing regular support.  Further, it familiarises French aircrews with the region and allows them to gather useful intelligence about operating in the South West Pacific. 

Papua New Guinea and Australia still arguing over asylum seekers

The debate between Australia and Papua New Guinea about the fate of refugees held on Australia’s behalf in the nation continues.  Some years ago, Australia paid Papua New Guinea to house asylum seekers while their applications to live in Australia were assessed. This policy became unpopular in Papua New Guinea and the nation is trying to stop the programme. 

In 2021, Australia and Papua New Guinea made a confidential deal. Australia paying for Papua New Guinea to manage the remaining people. Since then, the programme has stopped, the money paid is being contested and there are allegations of corruption.  Meanwhile, roughly 60 asylum seekers are stuck in limbo in Papua New Guinea. 



  1. Regional power plays in the Pacific by China, and Western efforts to contain China’s influence in this region, get a lot of analysis by Ben.

    Now that China has inserted itself in the conflict in Palestine, will Ben give us his analysis, of China’s power play in the Middle East?


    China’s approach to the war in Gaza is not anti-Israel. It’s designed to contain the US
    Ahmed Aboudouh – Associate Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme


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