Australia has launched a first-ever specialist college that aims to boost security cooperation in the Pacific, amid increasing influence from Beijing in the region.
The Australia Pacific Security College (APSC) was formally launched on Nov. 13 at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra. It will be funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and was designed in consultation with Pacific Island nations.
The launch of the specialist security college comes amid increasing investment from Beijing in the Pacific. In recent years, Beijing has increasingly financed infrastructure projects in the Pacific under its “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR, also known as Belt and Road) initiative, a loan program rolled out in 2013 that seeks to invest in infrastructure projects throughout the world. The OBOR has been described as a “dangerous debt diplomacy” effort that has the potential to generate debt sustainability problems in developing countries, the Lowy Institute noted in a report in October.
Alex Hawke, Assistant Defense Minister and Minister for International Development and the Pacific, said the college is a “critical part” of the Australian government’s Pacific Step-Up initiative, which Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced in November 2018 as part of efforts to undercut China’s influence in the Pacific region.
“The Australia Pacific Security College is a critical part of the Government’s Pacific Step-up,” Hawke said in a statement. “It will support the training of mid and senior-level Pacific officials in skills, capabilities, and areas of knowledge aligned with the 2018 Boe Declaration on Regional Security.”
The Pacific Islands Forum, including Australia, adopted the Boe Declaration on Regional Security in September 2018. According to the DFAT website, the declaration “recognises an expanded concept of security, including human, cyber and environmental security, and guides regional responses to emerging security issues.”
Member countries and observers from the #BluePacific have gathered today for the FOC Meeting on Regional Security incl the launch of the Boe Action Plan. The 2018 Boe Declaration on regional security affirms climate change as the single greatest threat to peoples of the Pacific pic.twitter.com/SI0sBt5pjp
— Pacific Islands Forum (@ForumSEC) October 14, 2019
Hawke said that the APSC will create a network of security experts that serve as a “technical advice pool” to support the development and implementation of security policies in Pacific Islands Forum countries.
“And [the College] will establish an active alumni network of security decision-makers to strengthen networks across Pacific Island countries and agencies to facilitate closer collaboration on regional security issues,” he added.
The specialist college was first announced back in August by Foreign Minister Marise Payne, and was first suggested in a 2017 Foreign Policy Whitepaper (pdf).
Professor Michael Wesley, Dean of the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, said in August that the Pacific region faces “a broad range of security challenges” and that the college will have ongoing consultation with Pacific Island nations going forward.
He noted that there are security issues facing the area that have “both regional and national dimensions,” and include transnational crime, cybersecurity, and human security issues.
ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt underscored the significance of the new college.
“One of the founding principles of the University was to increase and strengthen Australia’s understanding of and connections with the region,” Schmidt said in August. “As Australia’s national university we have a special obligation and mission to engage with the Pacific—a region that has had a profound influence on our past and will play a major role in our future.”
ANU Associate Professor Meg Keen will lead the college with a team from across the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific.
Former chief of the Australian Defence Force, retired Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, is set to chair an advisory board to guide and oversee the college. The advisory board will be comprised of senior leaders from the Pacific.