SINGAPORE — Fiji's defense minister said on Sunday that climate change was the biggest security threat to the Asia-Pacific region, a shift in tone at a defense summit that has been dominated by the war in Ukraine and disputes between China and the United States.
The low-lying Pacific islands, including Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, are some of the most vulnerable countries in the world to the extreme weather events caused by climate change.
Fiji has been battered by a series of tropical cyclones in recent years, which has caused devastating flooding that has displaced thousands from their homes and hampered the island's economy.
In the Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia's top security meeting, Inia Seruiratu, Fiji's minister for defense, said that in our blue Pacific continent, machine guns, fighter jets, gray ships and green battalions are not our primary security concern.
The single greatest threat to our existence is climate change. The meeting, which was held in Singapore and closed on Sunday, has been dominated by debate over Russia's invasion of Ukraine and rising tensions between the United States and China over everything from Taiwan's sovereignty to naval bases in the Pacific.
The Pacific Islands became a focus of regional tensions this year after China signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands in April, alarming the United States, Australia and New Zealand, who fear a stepped-up military presence by Beijing in the Pacific.
Beijing has stated that it is not establishing a military base in the Solomon Islands and that its goal is to strengthen security cooperation with Pacific island nations.
The Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi led a tour of the Pacific islands last month in the hope of securing a sweeping regional trade and security pact, but the island nations were unable to reach a consensus on a deal.
Seruiratu emphasized his willingness to work with a range of countries while highlighting his country's willingness to work with a variety of countries, despite concerns about a battle for influence in the Pacific islands.
Seruiratu said that in Fiji, we are not threatened by geopolitical competition.
We have to adapt how we work and who we work with to achieve stability.