Samoan Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata'afa meets with Jacinda Ardern, says no discussions underway with China on 'militarisation'

The Samoan Prime Minister says Pacific Island nations will have an opportunity to consider whether current security arrangements are enough for the region at an upcoming leaders forum.

Fiame Naomi Mata'afa, speaking after a meeting with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the Beehive on Tuesday, also confirmed there are "no discussions" underway between Samoa and China on militarisation.

China launched a new bid for greater influence in the Pacific last month, with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi touring island nations seeking to secure a region-wide trade and security agreement. It follows Beijing's controversial pact with the Solomon Islands.

Local leaders rejected the region-wide deal, saying it wouldn't be progressed before the upcoming Pacific Islands Forum (PIF). But China did sign a number of smaller-scale agreements with several countries, including Samoa. Those focused on economic and cultural matters.

Mata'afa said on Tuesday there "are no discussions between Samoa and China on militarisation at all".

She said PIF would take place between July 12 and 14 and provide an opportunity for leaders "to consider security issues" in a wider context and also "test the usefulness" of current arrangements in place. One of those is the Biketawa Declaration, an agreement between PIF members to coordinate responses to regional security needs. 

"If they're not enough then it's an opportunity to have that discussion around that," Mata'afa said.

"But I think I've made the point to Prime Minister Ardern and other colleagues, although the issue arose out of the agreement between the Solomons and China, the issue needs to be considered in the broader context of what we have in place and what we want to do in terms of the security provisions for the region."

Since it emerged that Beijing and Honiara were going to sign an agreement, New Zealand has said that security issues could be dealt with within the Pacific. 

Ardern repeated that point on Thursday, saying the region has the "capability" and "capacity" to respond.

"What we also have to consider, though, is every Pacific Island member has its own sovereign right to make their own decisions as well. So as a forum we'll come together, we'll discuss these issues.

"We will, of course, hope to build consensus, but we also will need to continue to respect the sovereignty of every nation who is a member of that forum."

Mata'afa's visit to New Zealand came as the two countries marked 60 years since the signing of the Treaty of Friendship and since Samoa gained independence. The Samoan leader invited the Prime Minister to visit the island nation for commemorations in August. 

"Aotearoa New Zealand is committed to enhancing and continuing to strengthen our relationship with Samoa as lifelong friends - or uō mamae - and I am proud to announce a special Prime Minister's Fellowship in Prime Minister Mata'afa's name to celebrate the 60th anniversary of our diplomatic relations," Ardern said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon.

The pair released a joint statement covering the likes of COVID-19, climate change and regional issues. The countries "confirmed their mutual dedication to a peaceful, secure, prosperous and resilient region".

"Pacific regional unity is critical in the face of climate change, geostrategic competition, COVID-19 recovery and other shared challenges.

"The Prime Ministers reaffirmed commitment to working together as a region to meet our security needs, as set out in the Biketawa and Boe Declarations, and in light of our shared aspirations, to care for and protect Te Moana Nui a Kiwa, the Blue Pacific Continent. 

"Prime Minister Ardern reiterated Aotearoa New Zealand's support for Pacific partners on both domestic and transnational security issues. Noting existing programmes in place which allow for a broad range of police and law enforcement training and capability building, Prime Ministers agreed to investigate further opportunities to collaborate."