WELLINGTON, April 6 (Xinhua) -- Defense chiefs and officials from around the South Pacific on Thursday agreed to step up cooperation in a range of security areas.
The South Pacific Defence Ministers' Meeting, held in Auckland, had issued a joint communique agreeing on key areas to collaborate and coordinate, New Zealand Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee said in a statement.
"These include a humanitarian assistance and disaster network, building up our future young and women defense leaders, a maritime security forum, and further peacekeeping cooperation and joint military exercises," he said.
"These achievements are only made possible by the cooperative spirit of my Pacific colleagues."
The countries involved in the meeting were Australia, Chile, Fiji, France, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Tonga, while representatives of the United Kingdom and the United States attended as observers.
The joint communique welcomed Fiji as the newest member, noting that Fiji was an essential partner for regional discussions on defense and security in the South Pacific.
In the communique, the member states reaffirmed the value of dialogue on defense policy for the South Pacific, including for building the capabilities and capacities of defense forces.
They agreed to hold a South West Pacific Heads of Maritime Forces Meeting in Auckland this year to advance priorities for maritime security, including on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
They also welcomed the proposal by France to lead a coordinated study on climate change's impact on defense cooperation in the South Pacific and the work of the armed forces.
Members were also invited to engage in Exercise Southern Katipo 2017, New Zealand's biggest multilateral military exercise, and the global conference of International Association of Peacekeeping Training Centres to be hosted in Auckland in 2018.
Fiji would host the next South Pacific Defence Ministers' Meeting in 2019.