SINGAPORE -- Fiji’s defense minister stated on Sunday that climate change was the greatest security threat to the region. This is a shift in tone from a defense summit that had been dominated in recent years by the war in Ukraine, and disputes between China (and the United States).
Low-lying Pacific islands like Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji are among the most vulnerable to extreme weather events due to climate change.
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In recent years, Fiji has been ravaged by a string of tropical cyclones that have caused devastating flooding and displaced thousands of people. This has also hampered the island's economic growth.
Inia Seruiratu from Fiji, the minister of defense, stated that machine guns, fighter planes, grey ships, and green battalions were not our primary security concern at the Shangri-La Dialogue. This is Asia's highest security meeting.
Climate change is the greatest threat to human existence. It is threatening our hopes and dreams for prosperity."
The Singapore meeting was closed on Sunday due to heated debate about Russia's invasion in Ukraine.
After China signed a security agreement with Solomon Islands in April, tensions rose in the Pacific Islands. This alarms the United States, Australia, and New Zealand who fear an increased military presence from Beijing in the Pacific.
Beijing stated that it will not establish a military base on the Solomon Islands, and that its goal was to improve security cooperation with Pacific island countries.
The Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited the Pacific islands last month with the hopes of reaching a comprehensive regional trade and security agreement. However, the island nations failed to come up with a compromise.
Seruiratu downplayed concerns about a struggle for influence in the Pacific islands, while also highlighting his willingness to work with many countries.
Seruiratu stated in his speech that Fiji is not under threat from geopolitical competition.