Australian Defense Task Group Visits Fiji as Part of Australia’s ‘Pacific Step-Up’

November 30, 2019 Updated: November 30, 2019

The Australian Defense Force (ADF) visited Fiji for a week of activities in Suva as part of the Australian government’s Pacific Step-up initiative, one of Australia’s highest foreign policy priorities that puts emphasis on engagement with the Pacific region.

“Our latest visit continues to build upon an extensive partnering program already established between the ADF and the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF),” Commander of the Australian Joint Task Force 637, Major General Justin Ellwood, said in a release on Thursday.

“This program includes a variety of engagements, from joint training exercises through to cultural and community activities,” he added, saying that the activities reflect the enduring relationship between the two nations.

The Australian Defense Task group conducted amphibious exercises with the RFMF and focused on surface and air operations. The task group was supported by HMA Ships Adelaide and Larrakia.

According to the Australian Department of Defense, the HMAS Adelaide hosted a church service for 450 people and an evening reception for 350 guests. About 200 defense personnel also attended an annual Sukuna Bowl Rugby match between the RFMF and the Fiji Police Force, won by the former.

“The deployment underpinned a busy year for both nations, which also saw airlift support provided to RFMF peacekeeping operations in the Sinai, Golan Heights and Iraq,” the department announced. “Australia will continue to develop training and engagement opportunities in consultation with the Fijian Government.”

Joint Australian-Fijian peacekeeping deployments were agreed upon in the “Fiji-Australia Vuvale Partnership” (pdf) that Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama signed in September.

The agreement followed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in April between the two countries to develop the Fijian military base, Blackrock Camp in Nadi, Fiji, as a regional center for police and peacekeeper training. The MoU was also part of the Australian government’s Pacific Step Up policy, which is now in its third year.

Australia had won over China to fund the Fijian military base in August 2018.

“This comes at a time when Fiji’s position between Australia and China within the Pacific is becoming more and more contested. Increasing Chinese activity within the region as a result of China’s Belt Road Initiative (BRI) has prompted Australia’s re-engagement within the Pacific,” researcher Christopher Mudaliar wrote for the Lowy Institute in October 2018. “This is also partly due to the relabelling of the Pacific’s strategic status from a place of ‘small-island nations’ to that of ‘large oceanic states’ who [harbor] vast amounts of ocean resources within their maritime borders,” he added.

Fiji Military Forces’ chief staff officer for co-­ordination Captain Eroni Duaibe told The Australian in September 2018 that Australia had won due to its “holistic approach.”

“I think Australia played their cards right in terms of tabling a holistic offer, something that China was a bit reluctant to … [They were] asking us to do certain parts of the development while they come in as a partner to do other developments,” Duaibe said at the time. “But when Australia placed the offer on the table, it was holistic development of Black Rock, not only of the infrastructure development but also the provisions of personnel and training of our troops and providing that expertise in various areas.”

Duaibe added at the time that the military base may co-ordinate with the then-proposed Australia Pacific Security College, which was launched mid-November.

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