Fiji’s Minister for Defence Inia Seruiratu and his New Zealand counterpart Peeni Henare met in Suva today, their first since COVID-19 restrictions, to reconnect and reaffirm commitment to regional security including issues that have stemmed from the coronavirus pandemic, maritime security, and issues around humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR).
The two ministers said their defence forces have been pivotal in the two countries’ pandemic response and it was time that they reconnect and regenerate their forces’ participation in the upkeep of security in the region.
“What we were clear on and came from our meeting that we desire to do this together. Seruiratu has already spoken about the challenges from COVID19, now as COVID slowly moves behind us, how do we come forward together hand in hand,” Henare said following the meeting with Seruiratu.
“We have got a responsibility to each other to connect and to plan and support each other as we move on forward.”
Seruiratu said although small in size, together the two countries have capabilities that are useful to the effectiveness and efficiency of HADR work in the Pacific.
“For us particularly, the deployment to Vanuatu in 2015 when we had cyclone Pam, we had to rely on airlift provided by NZ. These are some of the issues we discussed on HADR,” Seruiratu said.
“On maritime security strategy…we are a maritime nation, we have a huge border but we have limited capability to police our EEZ, for that we have ship rider agreements with the US, with the British and we have the Wasawasa arrangement with NZ.
“And specifically on the mutual assistant programme between the RFMF and NZDF, most of the Fijians are NZ trained including me, so we want that to continue and more of people, the exchanges, that we will have more of the men and women from the New Zealand Defence Force seen in our institutions here in Fiji, at Nasinu, offices in Vatuwaqa and maybe the new facility in Blackrock plus other exercises and activities.”
Henare said the defence forces outlook is never to take over when carrying out operations in the wider Pacific but to support.
During the visit, Henare will also attend a remembrance ceremony at the National War Memorial, and tour the recently commissioned Blackrock Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Camp, and Fiji’s Maritime Surveillance Rescue Coordination Centre.
From Fiji, the Minister will travel to Australia and meet with the Australian Minister of Defence, Peter Dutton.