The Pacific island states face real challenges in managing the security of marine resources in their EEZs.
Australia supports maintaining the prosperity of the region mainly through the Pacific Patrol Boat Program, (twenty two boats donated to 12 island countries and administered through Defence.) We’re committed to gifting a fleet of vessels to replace the existing patrol boats, which need replacing over the period 2018–2028. New vessels will be provided to all states that currently have Pacific Patrol Boats (including Fiji upon a return to democracy). Timor-Leste would be invited to join the program.
But Australia shouldn’t being going alone here: we’ll need to work with others on maritime security in the region. The more resources we can recruit to assist the better, particularly in addressing the illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing problem. In this context, it’s noteworthy that the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, Air Marshal Mark Binskin recently returned from a visit to increase Australia’s defence ties with Chile.
Chile has a capable defence force, with assets that could assist a cooperative effort. It operates three P-3 Orion and three C-295 Persuader aircraft as well as a modest fleet of naval vessels for maritime surveillance and patrol. In recent years, Chile has also acquired two multi-purpose offshore patrol vessels which are now in service with its Coast Guard, and a third is due for delivery later this year. These vessels provide enhanced surveillance and search and rescue capabilities as well as logistic support to isolated areas. Surveillance and patrol is seen as an ongoing national priority, and Chile is considering options including the purchase of long-range unmanned systems to meet this need.
Chile’s been a fairly responsible international player on fisheries. It’s a member of the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation, which has a secretariat in New Zealand. The organisation aims to ensure the long-term conservation and sustainable use of non-tuna fishery resources of the south Pacific Ocean.
Chile has ambitions to be seen as a Pacific player, mostly via their claims to Rapa Nui (Easter Island). Chile has long, although only episodically, wanted to join the South Pacific Commission on behalf of Easter Island.
Chile has expressed an interest in doing more in our part of the world, and a fair amount of their trade passes through the South Pacific to and from Northeast Asia and Europe. Both Australia and Chile are negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and two years ago Australia became an observer of the Pacific Alliance (Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru).
Chile attended the first South Pacific Defence Minister’s Meeting in Tonga last May. Ministers discussed opportunities to enhance cooperation on maritime security, as well as avenues to deepen our coordination on disaster relief activities. Australia said (PDF) it would lead a regional effort to develop improved maritime domain awareness and fund a one-year air surveillance trial in the Pacific.
There’s a lot of ocean between us and Chile. Chile doesn’t have assets just floating around our South Pacific neighbourhood. Nor does it have territories to service, which is what sets the US and France apart. The French decision to rebalance its security assets away from Tahiti to Noumea may well have been a factor in Chile’s desire to be included in regional security arrangements that could help to redress the loss of French capacity on its western maritime flank.
Chile mightn’t be the first country that comes to mind when contemplating our efforts in promoting stability and prosperity in the Pacific. But there’s no harm in Australia pursuing some modest, cost effective engagement if there’s the chance it might lead to strengthening the region’s capacity to respond to maritime security and oceans management challenges.
Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI and Richard Herr is adjunct professor of Pacific Governance and Diplomacy, University of Fiji.