SINGAPORE: Fiji’s defense minister said on Sunday (June 12) that climate change poses the top security threat in the Asia-Pacific region, a change of tone at a defense summit dominated by the war in Ukraine and China-China disputes became United States.
The low-lying Pacific islands, which include Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, are among the world’s most vulnerable countries to extreme weather events caused by climate change.
Fiji has been hit by a series of tropical cyclones in recent years, causing devastating floods that have forced thousands from their homes and hampered the island’s economy.
“In our blue Pacific continent, machine guns, fighter jets, gray ships and green battalions are not our main security concern,” said Inia Seruiratu, Fiji’s defense minister, at the Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s premier security gathering.
“The biggest threat to our existence is climate change. It threatens our hopes and dreams of prosperity.”
The meeting, which ends Sunday, was dominated by the debate over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and rising tensions between the United States and China over everything from Taiwan’s sovereignty to naval bases in the Pacific.
The Pacific islands became a flashpoint of regional tensions this year after China signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands in April, alarming the United States, Australia and New Zealand who fear an increased Beijing military presence in the Pacific.
Beijing has said it is not establishing a military base in the Solomon Islands and that its goal is to strengthen security cooperation with the Pacific island nations.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi toured the Pacific islands last month in hopes of striking a wide-ranging regional trade and security pact, but the island nations failed to agree on a deal.
Seruiratu downplayed concerns about a struggle for influence in the Pacific islands while emphasizing his country’s willingness to work with a range of countries.
“In Fiji, we are not threatened by geopolitical competition,” Seruiratu said in his speech.
“We need to adjust how we work and who we work with to achieve stability.”
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