ABC – By Stephen Dziedzic on Pacific Beat
Broadcast: Fri 12 Feb 2021, 6:00am
Australia’s former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has warned that China may take advantage of political chaos left by this week’s split in the Pacific’s top regional body.
This week five Micronesian nations announced they would split from the Pacific Islands Forum after their candidate, the Marshall Islands’ Ambassador to the US Gerald Zakios, lost the vote to become the new Secretary General.
Australia and New Zealand are now trying to encourage all Pacific nations to negotiate a compromise.
But Mr Rudd says it’s a huge blow to regional unity, with terrible consequences for Australian foreign policy.
Three of the five Micronesian nations that have decided to spilt from PIF retain diplomatic ties with Taiwan and Mr Rudd argues that could make them more vulnerable to coercion from Beijing.
“To lose a third of its membership, the Micronesian states, is a massive strategic setback for Australia.”
“It breaks potentially, the sense of strategic community which has long existed and I believe opens a fresh new door into Micronesia on the part of the Chinese,” Mr Rudd told the ABC.
He accused the Coalition government of “turning its back” on the Pacific in regards to aid and climate change.
“They didn’t have to do what they did on climate which is to ignore the threat, existentially, of coastal inundation. But they did.”
“And they could have engineered the politics and diplomacy of this most recent ballot for the Secretary Generalship in a far more effective way…this is just fail, fail, fail,” he said.
Pacific expert, Dr Tess Newton Cain from the Griffith Asia Institute’s Pacific Hub said that Australia will need to work alongside Pacific countries, rather than take the lead.
“There is obviously political will for working on this.”
“It is going to require a lot of work and I think Australia needs to see itself as sharing the load, but resisting the temptation to try and take the lead,” she said.
Duration: 5min 32sec Broadcast: Fri 12 Feb 2021, 6:00am