Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Pacific links: Covid-19 precautions take hold, Ardern in Fiji, more

Links and stories from the Pacific Islands region.

An electron micrograph of virus particles (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases/Flickr)
An electron micrograph of virus particles (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases/Flickr)

  • While novel coronavirus Covid-19 is spreading around the world, Pacific nations are ramping up on precautions. Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna has declared his country will not compromise the wellbeing of its people for economic gains, referring to cancellations of cruise ship visits and the heavy impact this has had on the local economy.
  • In Papua New Guinea, a Covid-19 ministerial committee has been established, chaired by the Minister for Health and HIV-AIDS Jelta Wong, whose role is to oversee the emergency preparedness and response of the government to the outbreak.
  • In Samoa, the Minister of Commerce Industry and Labour was one of the first Samoans to be denied entry upon arrival at the Faleolo Airport. Meanwhile, in New Zealand, the Foreign Ministry has cancelled the upcoming Pacific Mission, due to be led by Foreign Minister Winston Peters, because of the outbreak.
  • Australia is providing medical assistance to Pacific and Timor-Leste. The European Union has also given US$3.2 million to the Pacific Public Health Surveillance Network.
  • China has officially declared Kiribati as a tourism destination for its citizens, an apparent reward for the restoration of their diplomatic sties. Unfortunately, the Kiribati government has also placed all visa applications from China on hold in an effort to stave off the coronavirus.
  • In other news, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visited Fiji last week. It was Ardern’s first official visit in the country and Fiji’s Frank Bainimarama asked her to join him in “demanding” serious climate action from their neighbours, a clear dig at Australia.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (Nevada Halbert/Flickr)


  • During her visit, Ardern underlined the fact that 25,000 Fijians call New Zealand home and nearly 200,000 New Zealanders visit Fiji every year. She also launched a new partnership program between the New Zealand and Fiji police that will focus on combatting transnational organised crime and enhancing investigative skills. At the University of South Pacific, Ardern announced $2 million in funding to put towards the relocation of Fijian communities displaced by climate change. She concluded her trip by offering Bainimarama, who is known to be a keen supporter of the Wallabies, an All Blacks jersey.
  • ANU academic John Blaxland has called for a “grand compact” with small Pacific nations, giving the islanders Australian citizenship in return for partnerships covering their land and seas. Australia’s “compacts of association” would be with Kiribati (population 115,000), Tonga (107,000), Tuvalu (11,000) and Nauru (11,000). Former prime minister Kevin Rudd suggested something similar last year, which was not well received, with Tuvalu's prime minister accusing him of “imperial thinking”. However, former Kiribati president, Anote Tong, admits that the current proposition would be “difficult to turn down” by small islands countries.
  • In the Solomon Islands, leaked information exposed the government’s attempts to acquire a loan of USD$100 billion (SBD$800b) from a private businessman in China after switching diplomatic ties from Taiwan to China in September 2019.
  • Morocco organised the third Annual Morocco-Pacific Island States Forum in the southern Moroccan city of Laayoune, where Morocco’s Foreign Affairs Minister Nasser Bourita has pledged to deepen political and economic cooperation with the Pacific Islands nations for mutual benefit. Around the same time, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin announced that Israel will offer 100 scholarships to Fijian and other Pacific Island students who wish to study agriculture in Israel.
  • Vanuatu’s Department of External Trade has responded to a report published by PANG, saying it provides incorrect information on the PACER PLUS talks.
  • In Papua New Guinea, the United States has confirmed K78 million for a rural electrification project announced at APEC in 2018. Meanwhile, the PNG Prime Minister James Marape visited Solomon Islands last week. The bilateral talks with Manasseh Sogovare focused on border security, the Bougainville referendum, economic, trade and investment, labour mobility and employment opportunities, and the Melanesian Spearhead Group.
  • For his part, the National Capital District Governor Powes Parkop has lashed out at the Australian government for being tight-lipped on the West Papua issue in Indonesia. But in an upbeat note, Papua New Guinean troops who helped Australia during the bushfires are being thanked for their support before heading home.
  • PNG needs to prepare for Bougainville negotiations, says the Lowy Institute’s Shane McLeod.
  • Behrouz Boochani's book, No Friend But The Mountains, is to be made into a film, which will bring more attention to Australia’s brutal immigration detention regime.
  • The US Presidential race featured one (former) candidate with specific offers for Pacific islanders.

Pacific Research Program

You may also be interested in