The capital of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby, welcomed the arrival of two formidable Indian Navy vessels, the INS Kolkata guided missile destroyer and INS Sahyadri frigate, on a two-day visit. The purpose behind this maritime endeavour was to strengthen cooperation and bolster security in the region, a move that holds strategic significance, especially with India currently holding the rotating presidency of the G20.
In the near future, these naval forces from India, the United States, Japan, and Australia, collectively known as the QUAD, will be participating in joint naval exercises in Australia. Such collaborations underscore the efforts of these nations to assert their influence and safeguard their interests in the Pacific region, which has become an area of heightened geopolitical importance.
The QUAD countries have expressed concerns over China’s increasing presence in the Pacific Islands, particularly as it pertains to forming security ties with smaller nations. This apprehension stems from the ongoing tensions surrounding Taiwan and China’s security pact with the Solomon Islands. As a countermeasure, Papua New Guinea, for instance, has already signed a defence agreement with the United States, aligning itself with the QUAD nations’ stance.
Interestingly, the leaders of the Pacific Island nations have voiced their topmost security concern – the rising sea levels caused by climate change. Given that their territories encompass a staggering 40 million square kilometres of ocean, the impact of climate change poses a direct threat to their existence. This, in turn, elevates the significance of addressing environmental issues in the region.
The recent port call of the Indian naval vessels follows the visit of India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, to Papua New Guinea, wherein he participated in a summit meeting of Pacific nations. In the same vein, other prominent world leaders, including representatives from France and Indonesia, as well as high-ranking officials from the United States and Britain, have also paid visits to Papua New Guinea recently. These diplomatic endeavours reflect the growing attention on the Pacific region during crucial junctures in international relations, much like its historical importance during the 1921-22 Washington Naval Treaties after World War One.
Post-World War II, the United States sought to prevent the former Japanese islands from falling into the Communist bloc. These islands were deemed critical for safeguarding the southern flank below Japan and above Australia. The evolving geopolitical landscape has once again thrust Pacific Island nations into the spotlight, particularly with the strategic importance of their airfields and undersea cables in the context of China’s ascent as a global power.
China, being Papua New Guinea’s largest trading partner, has been keen on expanding its influence in the region, a development that has raised concerns among Western nations with vested interests in the Pacific. In response, the United States is actively pursuing a bilateral security agreement with Papua New Guinea, signalling its commitment to the region and its intent to make a positive impact. However, despite the increased attention from the West, Pacific Island nations remain open to engaging with China, emphasizing their desire for authentic partnerships that yield tangible results.
The Pacific region has once again become a focal point in global geopolitics, attracting the interests of major world powers. As alliances form and competition intensifies, the delicate balance between security, climate change, and economic partnerships remains at the forefront of discussions.