PM Scott Morrison has signalled that Defence and industry will form the backbone of the government's efforts to shore up Australia's presence in the South Pacific in a statement released during his overseas visit to Vanuatu.
"We will continue to deepen our security partnership. We are working together to build police capability and improve infrastructure, and opened the upgraded Police College on 16 January. We are also upgrading infrastructure for the Vanuatu Mobile Force and Police Maritime Wing, and will support training and leadership opportunities," PM Morrison said.
"We continue to work cooperatively to advance a bilateral security treaty. Guided by the Boe Declaration on regional security, we will also work together to address the Pacific’s unique security interests including transnational crime, human, environmental and cyber security.
"Vanuatu will also receive a replacement Guardian-class patrol boat under the Pacific Maritime Security Program (PMSP). The PMSP is a $2 billion (over 30 years) program, which consists of replacement Guardian-class patrol boats, integrated aerial surveillance, and enhancements to regional cooperation."
ADM Comment: As we've previously reported, Canberra's renewed efforts in the South Pacific follow on the back of concerns that it is being outmaneuvred by China in the region.
Beijing has used conditional loans to bring small Pacific states into financial debt. A similar scheme was used to take ownership of the Sri Lankan port of Hambantota, and Chinese aid spending is ramping up - particularly in PNG, which has significant mineral deposits on land and in its EEZ. Other forms of Chinese involvement are also increasing - Chinese undersea robotics technology, for example, has been used by a Canadian mining firm to map seafloor deposits in the Bismarck Sea.
Significantly, Canberra is also upgrading wharf and shore-based infrastructure at PNG’s Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island. It is not yet clear what upgrades are to be undertaken. ADM will let you know more as we do.