Showing posts with label Fiji Pacific Islands Forum. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fiji Pacific Islands Forum. Show all posts

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A War of Words- Fiji and The Pacific Island Forum.

A war of words has erupted between Fiji and The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF)over the recent announcement that, Fiji had voluntarily withdrawn from the hastily scheduled PACP meeting in Solomon Islands, 'as a matter of principle'.

PIF General Secretary responded to the allegations leveled by Fiji, in a statement issued by the PIF:
“The Secretariat said that the special meeting of Pacific ACP Trade Ministers and Fisheries Ministers convened in the Solomon Islands was duly notified to Fiji and other countries and freely agreed to and attended by the Pacific ACP States (PACPS). Following the impasse in Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) trade negotiations in Brussels in October 2013, the European Union (EU) Trade Commissioner wrote to the Pacific ACP Lead spokesperson proposing that he could meet with as many Pacific Ministers as possible in Honiara, Solomon Islands, on 12 December.  The Trade Commissioner’s proposal was circulated to all PACPS via an official circular in the normal way.
Until Fiji’s unheralded withdrawal, there was no dissent and not one objection to the Honiara meeting from any PACP country, including Fiji.
The Secretariat clarified that the meeting with the EU Trade Commissioner is not a negotiation session but a special meeting that was convened to clarify issues and to take stock on the status of the EPA negotiations, before formally resuming the negotiations with the EU.”
Fiji repudiated the PIF response in a released statement today:
“Fiji dismisses the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat's ("Secretariat") claim that it has diligently and professionally executed its responsibility in relation to the EPA negations between the Pacific ACP (PACP) and the European Union (EU).

Fiji stands by its earlier statement that the Secretariat has failed in its obligation to carry out the decisions of the PACP member states and has demonstrated a clear lack of transparency and propriety in the manner in which it organised and conducted the special EPA-related meetings in Solomon Islands this week.

After the EU suspended EPA negotiations due to PNG's withdrawal, the core group of PACP ministers agreed in Brussels in October that we needed the opportunity, as a united region, to regroup and strategise on contentious and outstanding issues before continuing discussions with the EU.

The decision for all 14 member states – including PNG – to regroup in Fiji before meeting with the EU Trade Commissioner was deliberate and strategic. It was agreed that PACP leaders and ministers needed the opportunity to provide informed political input into the process, with ample time to properly address a number of challenging issues.

The Secretariat should have focused its efforts on organising this meeting.

However, the Secretariat’s circular makes no mention of the proposed meeting in Fiji with PNG in attendance. Instead, in direct contravention to the ministers’ decision, the Secretariat organised a special meeting between PACP ministers and the EU Trade Commissioner in Solomon Islands with only three days scheduled for preparatory sessions with officials and ministers beforehand.

Contrary to the statement released by the Secretariat to the media, Fiji – a country with one of the biggest stakes in the EPA negotiations – lodged a clear objection to this schedule of meetings in a letter dated the 8th of November to the Tongan Minister for Commerce and Lead PACP Spokesperson, Dr. Viliami Latu, copied to all PACP Ministers and the Secretariat.”

While the PIF response highlighted the attendance with some overly optimistic numbers, “Except for Papua New Guinea and Niue, all PACP countries are represented in the meeting in Honiara. Eleven countries – not six - are in attendance, with 10 Pacific Ministers participating.”

Fiji's counter-argument on the point of attendance:
“As it turned out, Fiji's fears were confirmed and three PACP countries – including PNG – were not in attendance in Solomon Islands and only seven countries (as confirmed yesterday) were represented at the ministerial level: Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Tuvalu, Nauru, Palau and Solomon Islands. The Secretariat's statement that there were ten ministers present was because three countries (Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu) were represented by both a trade and fisheries minister.
Fiji maintains that the EPA negotiations need input from the highest level and that the PACP's strength is as a united front.”

PIF's statement appeared to gloss over some legitimate and serious concerns raised by Fiji, with some added abrasiveness:
“The Secretariat said that the suggestion from Fiji that the Secretariat is acting for the EU and that it is putting pressure on the PACP states or dictating directions to PACPS is simply not true, and hardly deserves a serious response.
The Secretariat is the technical advisory body to the EPA regional negotiating machinery, and that the Secretariat has very diligently and professionally executed its responsibility. The Forum Secretary General, Tuiloma Neroni Slade, responded in the meeting to counter the allegations from Fiji. He said that the Secretariat is a service organisation that is proud of its competence and professional behavior, and that it remains ready to be of assistance to all Pacific island member states.
The Secretariat said that the Fiji walk out from a Ministerial meeting is simply not done, and was an extraordinary display of unwarranted and un-Pacific behavior.”

Fiji piqued by the PIF statement, remained steadfast in its position, outlined its displeasure with the PIF and gave some examples of other nations equally disturbed about the dubious dealings within the PIF, surrounding the accelerated PACP meeting in the Solomon Islands:

“In contrast, it appears that the Secretariat's primary interest is concluding the negotiations at any cost, including making concessions that could have negative impacts on the policy space, sovereignty and development of countries in the region.

Fiji’s objection to this schedule of meetings is also based on the fact that the decision to call them was not the Secretariat’s to make in the first place. The Secretariat should not dictate the nature, scope and agenda of meetings, but should rather seek guidance from PACP states and assist where needed.

The Secretariat is only meant to act as a technical advisory body. In this case, Fiji believes that the Secretariat overstepped its bounds as a technical advisory body and unduly wrested control of the EPA agenda from PACP leaders and ministers.

Promoting and encouraging regional unity has always been at the very centre of Fiji’s position in the EPA negotiations and to be called “un-Pacific” for standing up for the sovereignty and integrity of the PACP is derisory.

Fiji – working side-by-side with its neighbours in the Pacific – will do everything in its power to ensure the best possible future for the region. We will not compromise on our future. We believe that's truly the Pacific way.

In fact, we acknowledge Tonga's immediate support after Fiji withdrew from the Joint Trade and Fisheries Ministers meeting on Tuesday. Furthermore, Tonga questioned the congested agenda proposed by the Secretariat when the region was preparing only for an informal meeting with the Trade Commissioner.”

The relations between Fiji and the PIF has been somewhat testy, ever since Fiji's suspension from the once paramount regional institution in 2009. Fiji's Foreign Minister has made some public statements indicating the Fiji, was not obligated to rejoin the PIF. This recent exchange of words, albeit publicly, is an extension of the animosity brewing behind the scenes and perhaps will not be the last of it.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Fiji Foreign Minister Speaks On Pacific Issues.

Source: Radio NZ
Radio New Zealand's correspondent, Sally Round interviewed Fiji's Foreign Minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola. In that interview, Kubuabola addressed the outcome of the recent inaugural Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF) and labelled it as, "I believe it was not successful for Fiji, but successful for Pacific Island countries who attended".

Fiji Foreign Minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola (MoI)
Kubuabola was asked, where the PIDF was heading, in relation to the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) and replied, "That the PIDF compliments the PIF" and "It was about sustainable development and PIDF was never about competing with existing regional organizations".

Kubuabola, also touched briefly on the current review of the PIF and further added that, "[Fiji] will not be part of the Forum, as is and there will need to be some changes before [Fiji] goes back in". Kubuabola further elaborated on those needed changes in the PIF, "Australia, New Zealand need to decide whether they want to be a donor or a member".

Kubuabola addresed the postings of High Commissioners to Suva, " We've been looking at some of things being done by Australia, New Zealand towards Fiji and we believe, maybe we should hold back on the postings of High Commissioners to Fiji and our High Commissioners to Canberra and Wellington". Kubuabola also alluded to the undermining by the Metropolitan neighbors, "Some leaders were approached, not to attend attend this meeting".

Audio of the interview ( posted below)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

US, China Aim to Boost Pacific Influence

Source: Australia Network News-Newsline
Territorial disputes in the South China Sea have divided ASEAN and caused friction between China and the United States.But that's not the only place in the Asia-Pacific where the world's two biggest powers are competing for influence.

Later this month Pacific Island leaders will hold their annual forum in the Cook Islands.Both the US and China are sending powerful delegations and, for the first time, an American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will attend. Pacific correspondent Sean Dorney reports. (Video posted below)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

X-Post-Island Business: New Players In The Region

The New Players in the Region
Pacific diplomacy boosts links with new friends

Nic Maclellan

Pacific nations are largely reliant on aid, trade and investment from traditional partners like Australia, New Zealand, United States, France and Japan. But in recent years, there has been increasing interest in finding new sources of development assistance, economic and political support.
Pacific governments have been diversifying their political and economic links beyond the old regional groupings—led by France, United States and Australia/New Zealand—that dominated islands politics throughout the Cold War years. 

In the mid-1980s, PNG’s then Prime Minister Paias Wingti talked of a ‘Look North’ policy for his country, to extend relations beyond the old colonial ties with Australia.  Today, Pacific Islands Forum countries are looking north-west, north-east and to other points of the compass. There is a growing interest in South–South cooperation and new countries are seeking the status of Post-Forum dialogue partner with the Pacific Islands Forum. This trend is driven by a more co-ordinated and assertive diplomacy on the international stage by island ambassadors at the United Nations such as PNG’s Robert Guba Aisi, Fiji’s Peter Thomson, Solomon Islands’ Colin Beck and former Vanuatu Prime Minister Donald Kalpokas.

Currently, Nauru’s UN Ambassador Marlene Moses is the chair of the Alliance of Small Islands States (AOSIS) while Samoa’s ambassador Ali’ioaiga Feturi Elisaia represented Small Islands Developing States on the Transitional Committee for the Green Climate Fund (GCF).
The post-coup rift between Canberra, Wellington and Suva has accelerated these existing trends in regional policy. Under the Bainimarama administration, Fiji is broadening its international links by opening embassies in Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia.

Addressing the UN General Assembly in September 2010, Commodore Bainimarama stated that “this significant shift in foreign policy direction heralds the globalisation and maturity of Fiji. It demonstrates Fiji’s intention to become a good and engaged global citizen. Accordingly, over the past year, Fiji has formalised diplomatic relations with many countries with which no ties previously existed. In addition, Fiji has sought membership of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)”.

Fiji was formally admitted to NAM in April 2011, becoming the second islands member alongside Vanuatu. Fiji’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, told Radio Australia last year that joining NAM would help refocus Fiji’s relationships away from its traditional partners Australia and New Zealand and allow Suva to pursue its ‘Look North’ policy, through direct engagement with ASEAN countries and strengthen ties to Beijing.
China’s increasing interest in the region is provoking a re-engagement by the United States, highlighted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2010 visit to the region and new military deployments in Guam and Australia announced last year by President Obama. Beijing is active on a range of fronts: investment in the Ramu nickel project in PNG’s Madang province; the provision of aid and soft loans worth US$206 million in 2010; increased fisheries and construction programmes around the region and support for agencies such as the South Pacific Tourism Organisation. But increasing islands ties with China are just part of the picture. Around the region, there are a range of new players that are complicating life for the ANZUS allies—from Cuba, Russia, Timor-Leste and Indonesia to unexpected actors like the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Luxembourg.

From Havana to Honiara
Cold War paranoia about the Russian threat in the Pacific lost force after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Once scorned as a Soviet proxy in the islands, Cuba has improved relations with the Forum islands nations over the last decade.
Solomon Islands and Cuba established diplomatic relations in December 2002 and Havana opened a resident mission in Kiribati in 2006. Honiara then signed a development co-operation agreement with Cuba on March 6, 2007. Other countries expanded ties after a September 2008 Cuba-Pacific summit in Havana, attended by Kiribati President Anote Tong; then Tuvalu Prime Minister Apisai Ielemia; and other Pacific foreign ministers and officials. 

In early 2009, Cuba established formal diplomatic relations with Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. Since then, there has been increased diplomatic contact with Cuba on issues like development, decolonisation and climate change, through common membership of AOSIS and the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation.
This South-South link has focused on the health sector. Cuba currently supplies medical staff to Kiribati, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands, Nauru, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea, while students from these countries study medicine and primary healthcare in Havana. In Solomon Islands, for example, Cuba has agreed to send 40 doctors and offered scholarships for Solomon Islands students to study medicine in Cuba. Solomon Islands announced in March 2011 that it would establish an embassy in Havana—partly in reaction to complaints by Solomons’ medical students that they were not getting the financial and pastoral support they had been promised.

From Russia with love
Russia continues to have small but influential ties in the region, with proposals for investment in PNG’s Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) industry and recent provision of ‘humanitarian’ aid to Nauru. Last year, on the fringes of the UN General Assembly in New York, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with a range of Pacific leaders and foreign ministers.
Then Lavrov visited the region earlier this year, with stops in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. After courtesy calls on Prime Minister Bainimarama and Foreign Minister Kubuabola, Lavrov joined regional delegates at the Sofitel Fiji Resort in Nadi on February 1 for the ‘Russian Federation and Pacific Islands Countries meeting’.
The Russian minister gained Suva’s agreement to develop a treaty for visa free travel between Russia and Fiji, and Lavrov expressed his government’s interest in co-operating with Pacific states on investment, minerals, energy, tourism, education and medicine. One unspoken element in the dialogue is Moscow’s concern about Beijing’s small but growing influence in the region.
Another of Russia’s interests is winning recognition for two breakaway regions of Georgia—the states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  In 2009, Nauru was one of only four UN member states to grant this recognition, later joined by Vanuatu and Tuvalu who recognised the Russian-backed regions.
Relations with Russia have not gone smoothly. As everyone should remember—when you’re out and about and tempted to dance with a new partner, think about the reaction of those you’ve left at home.
In February, Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Peter Shanel Agovaka and Permanent Secretary Robert Sisilo met bilaterally with the Russian Foreign Minister to discuss the formalisation of Solomons’ diplomatic relations with Russia next October. 

However, on his return to Honiara, Shanel was sacked by Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo who stated: “As a developing country, Solomon Islands should continue to strengthen our ties with traditional partners before pursuing new diplomatic groupings.”  Shanel’s foreign secretary was also reshuffled and is now the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Police, National Security and Correctional Services.
Support for Russia’s policy has also been contested in Port Vila, with attempts to reverse the initial decision on Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  Vanuatu’s media have raised concern about the role of Mrs Thi Tam Goiset, the country’s first Roving Ambassador to Russian and the Eastern Countries.

Luxembourg and the United Nations
According to the Vanuatu Daily Post, the Ambassador’s contract includes a 15% entitlement to any money secured in the name of the Republic of Vanuatu. For many years, islands governments often paralleled ANZUS policies on many international issues, except where there are clear issues that affected the region. Small Islands States governments like Tuvalu and Kiribati have fought hard against the US, Australian and Canadian coal lobby in international climate negotiations, while Tonga, Samoa and the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) nations have consistently voted for nuclear disarmament initiatives at the United Nations, in sharp opposition to Canberra and Washington.

Although constrained by the high cost of attending international meetings and maintaining overseas embassies, Pacific governments have been willing to use their vote as a diplomatic bargaining tool. A solid (and potentially growing) bloc of islands votes is a major resource when it comes to decisions in UN agencies or the regular votes for rotating seats on the UN Security Council (UNSC).
Alongside the UNSC permanent members (USA, UK, France, China and Russia), there are 10 non-permanent seats which rotate among the regional blocs that group UN member states—and people are eager to woo islands votes. Last September, the Asia Group within the United Nations formally changed its name to the ‘Group of Asia and the Pacific Small Islands Developing States’, a reflection of the Pacific’s new diplomatic vibrancy and growing links between Forum Islands Countries and Asian powers.
One of the legacies of colonialism is that Australia and New Zealand are members of the ‘Western European and Others Group’ (WEOG), rather than the Asia-Pacific group.
For the 2013-14 UNSC term, Australia is competing with Finland and Luxembourg for the two seats as part of the WEOG group at the high table. This competition explains the entry of the latest player into Pacific politics—the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Luxembourg has a population the size of Solomon Islands, but it’s one of the richest European states, home to tax havens and extensive private banking.

Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn has been actively lobbying for the rotating UNSC seat, travelling to the 2011 NAM meeting in Bali and wooing Fiji and Vanuatu. Prime Minister Bainimarama invited a representative from Luxembourg to attend the March 2011 MSG summit as a ‘special guest’, and both Luxembourg and Finland sent delegations to the 2011 Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Auckland to lobby on the sidelines.

So far, this diplomacy hasn’t borne results. In Auckland, Forum leaders (minus Fiji) reaffirmed their “strong and unanimous support” for Australia’s bid for the UNSC seat in 2013-2014 and New Zealand’s bid for 2015-2016 (Stay tuned for October to see if Fiji can woo any islands state to switch their vote from Australia at the last minute!)

Beyond support for the two largest Forum members, the 2011 leaders’ communique also noted “the importance of Pacific representation on the UN Security Council (UNSC) in ensuring the UNSC remained informed on international issues of concern to the region.” This suggests that the island bids for representation on the UNSC may be in the wind in the coming years. Fiji considered a bid for one of the Asia-Pacific group’s rotating seats in 2012, but agreed to defer its candidacy in favour of Pakistan, which went on to win the seat. Suva may expect the favour returned for 2015-2016, if national elections go ahead as scheduled in 2014 and Fiji is welcomed back into the arms of the ‘international community’.

Nic Maclellan

"The post-coup rift between Canberra, Wellington and Suva has accelerated these existing trends in regional policy [...]

NAM would help refocus Fiji’s relationships away from its traditional partners Australia and New Zealand and allow Suva to pursue its ‘Look North’ policy, through direct engagement with ASEAN countries and strengthen ties to Beijing [...]

Around the region, there are a range of new players that are complicating life for the ANZUS allies—from Cuba, Russia, Timor-Leste and Indonesia to unexpected actors like the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Luxembourg."

United Arab Emirates (UAE)
In the 1980s, the Kingdom of Tonga was one of the brokers of Libya’s engagement with the islands region. Today, Nuku’alofa has opened the door for another Middle East power—the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
As part of its shift towards renewable energy, Tonga has been a key Pacific player in the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), which was officially established in January 2009 to “promote the widespread and increased adoption and sustainable use of all forms or renewable energy”.
After ratifying the IRENA Statute in November 2009, Tonga became one of the first countries in the world to be a full member of the new agency. Tonga has been elected to the IRENA Council, which administers decisions of the agency’s global assembly.Through IRENA, successive Tongan governments have built links with the UAE. The then Prime Minister Feleti Sevele led a Tongan delegation to the UAE in January 2010 for the Third IRENA Preparatory Commission meeting.
On January 18, in Abu Dhabi, the MASDAR renewable energy company signed an MOU with the Government of Tonga to build a 500- kilowatt solar photovoltaic power plant in Vava’u, funded by a grant from the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, an agency controlled by the UAE government.
The following month, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan toured the Pacific in a private Boeing 737 800, leading a delegation for courtesy visits to Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, and Palau (UAE is now supporting Palau’s dugong protection programme).
In Nuku’alofa, Tonga’s Crown Prince Tupouto’a-Lavaka signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the UAE Foreign Minister on February 9, 2010 and His Royal Highness has been named as the Ambassador Designate to UAE. The UAE has now launched a US$50 million “UAE and Pacific Islands Partnership Programme” to be overseen by the UAE Foreign Ministry and managed by the government-owned Abu Dhabi Fund for Development.
Seeking AOSIS goodwill as one of the world’s highest per capita emitters of greenhouse gases, UAE was also looking for support for their 2010 bid for a seat on the UN Security Council rather than Canada (Canada lost). Canada and the UAE had a long-running dispute over access for Emirates airline to Canadian airports, and the issue of airline access resonates in the Pacific. 

At a time Qantas is looking at its major shareholding in Air Pacific, improved ties to the Emirates airline could be important for Fiji, which has hundreds of nationals serving in Middle East peacekeeping operations.
These links with the UAE opened the way for a June 2010 meeting between Pacific countries and the Arab League, hosted by the UAE Foreign Minister in Abu Dhabi. The ‘Prospects of Cooperation between Arab countries and the Pacific Islands conference’ started discussions on aid and political co-operation and even proposed opening an Arab League office in the islands.

At the meeting, “the Pacific Small Islands Developing States noted the concern of Arab states regarding the conflict in the Middle East, in particular in Palestine. The Pacific Small Islands Developing States undertook to give appropriate consideration to the Arab Peace Initiative, recognising that the views of the Arab States were crucial to a just, comprehensive and permanent peace in the Middle East.”

The meeting communique agreed to support international efforts to establish a nuclear weapon free zone in the Middle East (with an international conference on weapons of mass destruction in the region scheduled for late 2012). In the coming months, Pacific governments will be lobbied extensively on Iran’s nuclear programme and Israel’s arsenal, estimated at 80-200 nuclear weapons.

Middle East politics
As with the China-Taiwan dispute, the Arab-Israeli conflict will force Pacific islands to juggle allegiances. The 2010 meeting with the Arab League sparked concern amongst the ANZUS allies and Israel, as some participants started to draw away from US-Israeli positions on Palestine. The United States and Israel are lobbying Pacific states against support for Palestinian statehood and, as always, existing aid and trade relations come into play. In December last year, Vanuatu was one of only 15 countries that opposed Palestine’s application to join the United Nations Economic Scientific and Cultural Organisation(UNESCO). 
As the only Pacific country receiving US funds through its Millennium Challenge, Vanuatu’s Education Minister Marcellino Pipite told Vanuatu’s Daily Post that “prior to the UNESCO conference, I met USA officials and presented a request for the second Millennium Challenge Funds and did not want to jeopardise this with voting against Israel.”
Under their Compacts of Free Association, FSM, Marshall Islands and Palau have regularly voted with the United States and Israel against the international consensus on Palestinian rights. But solidarity with the United States comes at a cost. After the Marshall Islands opposed statehood for the Palestinians by abstaining in a 2011 UN General Assembly vote, Marshalls’ Foreign Minister Phillip Muller complained: “We were then told in a diplomatic note from the UAE that we were no longer eligible to participate in the renewable energy fund.We’ve been penalised for being friends with certain countries and no one is stepping up to fill the void.” Other countries with strong ties to Australia, like Solomon Islands, have also developed new ties with non-traditional partners in recent years. Honiara has been building diplomatic links with Iran and has joined Vanuatu to call for an end to the US embargo of Cuba.
In 2008, Solomon Islands’ then Foreign Minister William Haomae met his Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki in New York to discuss formalising diplomatic relations. Haomae then led a Solomon’s delegation to Tehran and the two countries signed a Cooperative Memorandum to explore development cooperation agreements. At the time, the Solomon Islands government rejected criticism from Israel over alleged Iranian influence, with an official stating: “We have no enemies, and therefore, we will be friends to all the nations, including both Israel and Iran.”
Israeli officials travelled to Honiara in 2009 to lobby the Sikua government over perceived policy shifts on Middle East affairs. In November 2009, Solomon Islands was the only Pacific islands nation to vote in the UN General Assembly in support of a resolution calling for independent investigation of allegations of war crimes documented in the Goldstone report (a study by a leading South African jurist which criticised human rights violations by Israel and Hamas during the Israeli invasion of Gaza in early 2009). Australia, Nauru and the US Compact states all voted to reject the report, with other Forum members abstaining.
In response to this increasing Pacific dialogue with the Arab world, Israel is increasing its regional lobbying.
In January 2010, FSM President Emanuel Mori and Nauru’s then President Marcus Stephen travelled to Israel, meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman and President Shimon Peres. In April 2011, the speaker of Israel’s Knesset, Reuven Rivlin, visited Tonga to improve relations between the two countries, while last August Israel’s President Shimon Peres offered Nauru support for desalination projects.
Tel Aviv has approved new aid programmes through MASHAV (Israel’s International Development Cooperation Agency). TAG International Development will implement development assistance programmes in Solomon Islands, with visiting delegations investigating agricultural projects in Malaita. Israeli experts are also looking at a hydroelectricity project in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea.

Timor-Leste and Indonesia
Closer to home, independent Timor-Leste gained Special Observer Status at the Pacific Islands Forum in 2002. Even though Timor-Leste is still primarily looking west to the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Dili is co-operating with the Melanesian Spearhead Group on trade, climate change and other issues.
In early 2011, MSG member states agreed to allow Indonesia and Timor-Leste to attend the March 2011 MSG leaders’ summit as observers. In September 2011, Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão visited the MSG Secretariat in Port Vila (the first visit by an overseas head of government since the secretariat was opened in 2008) and Timorese officials announced a US$500,000 grant for salaries and projects.
For many years, Indonesian diplomats have lobbied the islands region from embassies in Canberra, Wellington, Beijing and Tokyo but now Jakarta is seeking more links on the ground. Indonesia’s observer status at the March 2011 MSG summit was followed the next month by the opening of its new embassy in Suva. The Kilman government in Vanuatu too is moving closer to Indonesia, with the December 2011 signing in Jakarta of a Vanuatu-Indonesia Development Co-operation Agreement. These moves have dismayed the West Papua National Council for Liberation (WPNCL), which has an information office in Port Vila (especially as the new co-operation agreement stresses Indonesian territorial integrity, sovereignty over West Papua and prohibits Vanuatu from interfering in Indonesia’s “internal affairs”).
Indonesia’s MSG observer status was a sharp blow for the West Papuan nationalist movement, which has been lobbying for that status for many years.
Indonesia is not alone as an active regional player from Asia. Malaysian corporation Naim is building roads across Fiji, Rimbunan Hijau dominates PNG’s forestry sector while Korea’s POSCO has struck a major nickel deal with the FLNKS-dominated northern province in New Caledonia.
In 2011, Korea tripled its development aid to the islands region from US$300,000 to $US1 million as part of the Lee Myung-bak government’s “New Asia Diplomacy” initiative. Last June, Korean diplomats and representatives of 14 islands nations gathered in Seoul for the first ever Korea-Pacific summit (by coincidence, Korea is bidding for one of the rotating Asia-Pacific seats at the UN Security Council in 2013-14!).

Canberra’s dilemma
Some Australian officials have expressed concern that the islands’ diversifying diplomatic links are simply a matter of chequebook diplomacy. But there are also some fundamental policy differences between Pacific states and Canberra, Washington and Paris. Some islands leaders increasingly attracted by economic models from Asia that involve capital controls, government intervention and reliance on state-run enterprises, rather than the Washington consensus of trade liberalisation and privatisation.  At a time when Canberra backs France’s ongoing colonial role in the South Pacific and maintains a paltry 5% target for greenhouse emissions cuts by 2020, it’s hardly surprising that Pacific nations are looking to new friends. The new role of the Pacific Small Islands Developing States (PSIDS) grouping within the United Nations is causing debate in Australia. 

A 2011 report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) notes: “The importance of PSIDS for Australia’s regional position is that, to some extent, the group demonstrates our alienation from the FICs.
The Pacific Islands Forum has had observer status in the General Assembly since 1994. The increased prominence of PSIDS derives from the FICs’ preference for a form of engagement that excludes Australia and New Zealand, which would be included in any discussions under the PIF banner. The PSIDS feel very satisfied with their inclusion in the UN’s Asia Group, especially under its new name.”
With former NSW Premier Bob Carr taking over from Kevin Rudd as Foreign Minister and initiating talks with New Zealand about new policies towards the Bainimarama administration, there are signs that Canberra is starting to respond to the new regional dynamic.

Sept 2012: Russian s ready to land
By Davendra Sharma

If Russians have yet to make a mark on the Pacific, just wait until September 2012 when Moscow hosts the region’s most powerful meet—the Asia Pacific Economic Community Summit. Already eyes of the regional superpowers like Australia and the United States are on Russia as it prepares to host the influential meeting of leaders from the two regions, Asia and Pacific. They will be keen to study how Moscow will enhance its regional profile and gain an opportunity to establish itself in the region.
Since the visit last January by Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov to Australia, Fiji and Kiribati as part of his five-nation tour, the European country has been accused of chequebook diplomacy.
But economic deals are not only interests Moscow has in the Pacific, it also has military and political intentions as the former Soviet power embraces the Pacific region.
In a report, The phantom of the Pacific: Reconsidering Russia as a Pacific power prior to APEC–2012, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) argues that increased Russian diplomacy in key parts of Asia and Oceania is driven by “economic, political and military strategic considerations”.
It said that the economic driver to Russia’s re-engagement in the Asia Pacific region is also to expand and find markets for its burgeoning energy industry. Russia has been able to woo support at the UN for recognition of its disputed territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia—the scene of Russia’s 2008 war with Georgia.
While the region’s biggest aid donor, Australia, accuses Russia of “exploiting” some of the world’s smallest economies like Kiribati, Tuvalu, Nauru, Vanuatu and Fiji, Russia is marching on and forging ties with whichever countries it can in the Pacific Islands Forum region. Russia is said to have poured tens of millions of development aid to these five countries in return for their acknowledgement of the Russian puppet states. The former phosphate-rich Nauru, which now relies on foreign remittances and assistance on living expenses, was reportedly given US$50 million. 
The new ASPI report also questions Russia’s political intentions as Moscow increases its presence in Oceania which it says “provides the nation with both a challenge and an opportunity, because it allows Russia a platform to display its restored military power to potential allies and friends, including through military exercises and out-of-area deployments.

Kiribati deal
Russia it seems is taking a leaf out of China’s policy book as it pursues economic deals and assistance in the Pacific islands. China also launched a campaign in the Oceania region in the early 1990s as it competed with Taiwan over recognition by Forum members like Kiribati, which has very limited natural resources and significant lag behind other Forum countries. But to Russia’s surprise, the governments in Tarawa over the last 20 years have had a long standing patterns of creating ties with new economic powers in the Pacific—be it Australia, China, Taiwan, the United States, United Kingdom, Germany or Cuba. Russia is just another new player.
For years it was China versus Taiwan. While China helped build the main infrastructure in Kiribati as well as supply specialist and skilled workers like doctors, Taiwan built a A$8 million stadium. And now it is Russia versus Georgia—both former members of the Soviet Union, which collapsed in 1991. As one regional Auckland-based commentator puts it, “It all depends on how much the latter and its Western backers would be willing to donate to this cause.”
And so as Australia’s parliamentary secretary for the Pacific islands affairs, Richard Marles argues that while competition benefits consumers the most, the resource-poor islands countries can only win here at the expense of the regional superpowers like Australia and New Zealand watching from the sidelines.
While long-time major donors accuse Russia of pressuring the islands countries of trading their sovereignty, the deals actually end up benefitting the poor countries in Oceania. "This kind of cheque-book diplomacy undermines development assistance in the region," said Marles.

When Lavrov decided a stopover in Fiji to meet military strongman, Commodore Bainimarama, Australia and New Zealand were left wondering how much deeper could Russia penetrate into relations with Oceania.
Like Kiribati, Suva under Bainimarama has stepped up ties with China and Russia. Shunned by New Zealand and Australia, Fiji has moved swiftly in 2012 to also reaffirm closer relationship with the United States and other Asian democracies like Japan. The Australian thinking however is that Russia has more military and strategic considerations than any other agenda as it pierces through the Oceania region. “More traditional geostrategic factors are also driving the Russians to give the Pacific greater prominence in the coming decade,” noted the ASPI report.

Russia’s military potency second to none
It asserts that the Russians are concerned that on one hand Washington is talking up downsizing its military might, it is still pouring millions into its Pacific allies and territories like Guam, American Samoa, FSM and the Northern Marianas.
Russia is only second to the US in terms of being the world’s most potent military power and it also the world’s sixth largest economy. Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, where Australia aspires to be in years to come.  Russian interests in the South Pacific could also extend to mining as that country has the world’s third largest gold reserves. Mining of gold is a major source of employment in PNG and Fiji, where Australian companies are predominantly engaged.
Russia also enjoys an average annual growth of over 4%, one of the highest in modern-day Europe, most of which is slowly recovering from the three-year recession. The report forewarns that renewed Russian interest in the Pacific region should not been taken lightly by existing economic powers. “Russia’s long-term economic agenda and its clear interest in cooperation rather than confrontation drive this comeback. Its intention to rebuild a credible military capability in the Pacific is driven not by threat perceptions alone, but by a pragmatic need to protect its national economic and political interests,” it said.

Further reading:

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

MSG Talks In Fiji.

Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) Economic Ministers meeting begins in Suva, followed by the Leader's Summit later in the week. The MSG Senior Officials Meeting (SOM) which began over the last few days, had met, to discuss key points of cooperation; as reported by Solomon Star (S.S) article.

The excerpt of S.S article:

MSG meets key cooperation issues

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Senior Officials from the five members of the Melanesian Spearhead Group met key cooperation issues to be presented to the Foreign Ministers Meeting this week.

Chair of the MSG Senior Officials Meeting (SOM), Mrs Saipora W. Mataikabara thanked delegates from Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, FLNKS and Fiji for their contribution and cooperation on addressing these key issues of common interest at the two-day meeting.On the first day, SOM endorsed among other issues the Director General’s Report to the Leaders, Secretariat papers on MSG Properties, Corporate Planning Process and the MSG Secretariat Soft Reforms.  SOM Chair confirmed that the Secretariat papers were to strengthen the organization’s administration arm of the MSG organization.

Mrs Mataikabara said on the second day of meeting the other reports presented to SOM were all endorsed.  She said the members’ endorsements reflected the common interests of the MSG in strengthening cooperation amongst member countries in particularly on cultural cooperation for instance the endorsement of the draft MSG MOU on Cultural Cooperation presented by the MSG Council of Arts & Culture.  She said other issues that will promote more cooperation between member countries include the preparation for the first Melanesian Games in 2013 as mandated by Leaders on 31st March 2011 was also endorsed by the Senior Officials Meeting today.

Mrs Mataikabara said the Special SOM was also able to endorse key recommendations presented by the Subcommittee on Institutional Issues (SCLII) to complete discussions on the Review of the Agreement Establishing the MSG. 

SOM Chair said legal and institutional issues are backbones of MSG as an organization and that is why members felt that careful consideration on the legal and institutional issues will help guide senior officials, foreign ministers and leaders in making sound decisions to strengthen the organization.  A key recommendation that was endorsed by SOM is that SCLII meet in July to further complete important discussions on the Review of the Agreement Establishing the MSG, Reporting Requirements, Membership Issues (Observers & Associate Members) and MSG Visa Arrangements.

Reports from the different subcommittees and technical committees such as Security, Trade and Economic Officials Meeting (TEOM), and the Police Commissioners’ Conference were also endorsed.  The draft MOU for the MSG Skills Movement Scheme and the MSG Trade Agreement on Rules of Origin and principles for enhancing fiscal management in Melanesia were all endorsed this special SOM.
Mrs Mataikabara thanked all delegates for their participation and cooperation in the pre-Summit SOM and confirmed that the SOM outcomes will be presented to the Foreign Ministers Meeting for their consideration this week.

Fiji Times article, quoted from MSG Director General, Peter Forau, who alluded to the absence of "power play" within the MSG; in comparison to the regular undue influence from larger metropolitan countries, in  the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF). Mr Forau highlighted the growing influence of the MSG, which could over shadow the PIF.

Excerpt of Fiji Times article:

No 'power play'

Elenoa Baselala
Monday, March 26, 2012
"This should have happened long time ago," MSG director general and former Pacific Islands Secretariat deputy secretary general Peter Forau said.
In an interview with The Fiji Times, Mr Forau who has been on the job for the past six months said the MSG, made-up of the five big economies in the South Pacific region Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands had great potential to become influential.
In fact, Mr Forau said the MSG trade agreement was the only trade agreement that was working with the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement "all over the place".
And while, many see the MSG as a threat to regional unity, Mr Forau said this was not the intention of the MSG.
Mr Forau said unlike PIFS, the MSG members had equal rights and there was not much "power play" or influence from bigger countries.
"If the MSG is seen as a threat that is not our intention, we are just working in the best interests of our members.
"If we are to become influential that is the natural cause of things," Mr Forau said.
Mr Forau, however cautioned, that for the MSG to grow to greater heights it must be united.
And they must do things to international standards to be recognised globally.
"Things are starting to happen. There are a lot of opportunities," he added.
The MSG Foreign Economic Ministers meeting starts today and ends tomorrow. The Leaders Summit will follow on Thursday and Friday.
In a Fiji Village (FV) article, Forau also addressed the need for the MSG countries to bring the benefits to their citizens.

Excerpt of FV article:

MSG issues to benefit citizens- Forau  

Publish date/time: 26/03/2012 [11:21]
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The Melanesian Spearhead Group cooperation must bring gains for their citizens at the national level.

That was the message Director General for the MSG secretariat Peter Forau urged regional Foreign Affairs ministers at the opening of the meeting this morning in Suva.

The Foreign affairs ministers will consider political, trade, economic, social and Secretariat organizational issues of interest that have been endorsed by the senior officials last week.

The Foreign Ministers Meeting will then present to the Leaders' Summit to make decisions which will be implemented accordingly.

Forau has encouraged the ministers to discuss and think thoroughly on the issues put forward.

Leaders attending later this week include Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, spokesperson of the FLNKS Victor Tutugoro, PNG Foreign Affairs Minister Ano Pala,  Prime Minister of Vanuatu Sato Kilman and Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands Darcy Lilo

Fiji's Foreign affairs minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola officially opened the meeting at the GCC complex in Nasese.

Story by: Sofaia Koroitanoa

Fiji News footage (video below) of the recent discussions among MSG Trade officials.

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Friday, March 09, 2012

X-Post- 36th Parallel Weekly Analysis: Commodities Boom widens PIF Rift.

In order to understand political dynamics, underlying economic factors often need to be considered. The growing rift within the Pacific Island Forum between the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) and the Polynesian Leaders Group (PLG) is one such instance.

The metals boom preceded the minerals boom, both of which have been paralleled by  ongoing interest in discovering new sources of energy, oil and natural gas specifically. Once metals markets were consolidated, investment flows turned to mineral resource extraction and towards exploring previously inaccessible sources of oil and natural gas. Rising prices for fuel and mineral commodities in an era of technological innovation has pushed capital investment into previously unexploited areas of the globe, including the South Pacific. Under highly competitive market conditions, Asian capital has joined the quest and accelerated the pace of primary resource investment even where it remains a secondary market player. The race to secure market share in these commodities is well and truly on.

Against that backdrop  Commodore Voreqe Baimimarama travels this week to Vanuatu in his capacity as Chairman of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) , a sub-group of the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) regional organization that encompasses most Pacific Island States, including Australia and New Zealand. Created in 1999, the MSG has recently been rivaled by the 2010 creation of the Polynesian Leader’s Group (PLG), which aggregates eight members of the PIF.

Unlike the PLG, the MSG has an established institutional structure and programmatic agenda, increasingly  dominated by Fiji due to its diplomatic importance and the relative underdevelopment of or political instability in other member states (New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu).The MSG contains a multilateral trade agreement between the its members, and because of historical investment interest in resource extraction in the sub-group (forestries and fisheries as well as minerals), it has seen the bulk of regional foreign investment in the last two decades. The ExxonMobil-led liquefied natural gas project in the PNG is one sample of that ongoing interest, now pushed into newly exploitable areas.

Polynesia has begun to experience the impact of the global energy and mineral rush. Whereas MSG members have a number of land and seabed mineral exploitation contracts within their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), only recently have PLG nations begun to see significant investment in land mining, and fewer have seabed exploitation agreements (one, Nauru, has secured a license to exploit seabed resources in international waters). Many of the companies involved in developing the PLG region for mineral extraction are already in the MSG, so the economies of scale they bring to negotiations with small Polynesian states provides them with good leverage when negotiating agreements. As in the case of MSG members, these contracts are not bound by regulatory vehicles embedded in regional trade agreements such as PACER and PICTA (on regional architecture, see here).

36th Parallel Analysis

"Fiji is the strongest partner with the MSG, that antagonism has spilled into MSG diplomacy vis a vis the Antipodean states and has seen the sub-group prioritize its relations with Asian partners as a balance to Western patronage relationships (which is based more on developmental aid than investment).
[...]The sanctions and suspension regime has done little to hurt the Baimimarama regime but have pushed both Fiji and the MSG more firmly into an Asian-centric diplomatic orbit, accentuating the cleavage within the PIF (which the MSG sees as too compliant with Australian and New Zealand diplomatic interests)."

The PIF is an observer of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) negotiations involving the US, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Brunei, Vietnam and Malaysia.  Japan, South Korea and Canada have also expressed desire to join the TPPA. Should the TPPA be ratified, increased trade volumes within the region are expected to grow even if the PIF does not become a full member itself. However, discussion has begun within the MSG about emphasizing bi- and multilateral trade with the so-called BRIC emerging economies: Brazil, Russia, India and China. None of these are party to the TPPA and yet are among the fasting growing economies in the world. They are, in fact, emerging great powers, gradually supplanting traditional Western powers as the motor force of the global economy.

China already has an established economic footprint within the MSG and its diplomatic presence, the largest in the PIF region, has grown  commensurate to the size of its investments. Russia and Fiji have just signed economic cooperation agreements, and Indian venture capital has made footholds there as well.

This trend has begun to be seen in PNG and the Solomons. Should the move to emphasize trade and investment between the MSG and BRICs lead to higher levels of commerce with the latter, the impact will significantly increase the investment gap between the MSG and PLG. Given its larger membership and smaller resource base, PLG benefits from an eventual TPPA will be much more diffuse than in the MSG with or without the BRIC connection. The more the BRIC-MSG connection comes into play, the less the MSG will need to be part of the TPPA and other pan-Pacific trade agreements. Should that happen, the MSG will begin to outweigh the PLG influence within the PIF, which opens the possibility of  an MSG-Australia/New Zealand confrontation within the PIF because the Antipodean states do not want the PIF to be dominated by Fijian interests.

As a result of the 2006 coup that brought Commodore Baimimarama to power, Fiji is currently suspended from the PIF and Commonwealth, and has been the subject of sanctions by Australia, New Zealand, the US and European Union. In response, Fiji has strengthened its ties to non-traditional partners such as China, something that gives it more flexibility in its foreign relations. Although the US has  softened its stance regarding the Baimimarama regime and its timetable for 2014 elections, the impasse continues with the Commonwealth, EU, Australia and New Zealand. Because Fiji is the strongest partner with the MSG, that antagonism has spilled into MSG diplomacy vis a vis the Antipodean states and has seen the sub-group prioritize its relations with Asian partners as a balance to Western patronage relationships (which is based more on developmental aid than investment).

Respecting the concept of national sovereignty, Asian economic partners are less concerned about Western notions of good governance, transparency, labor market conditions and environmental impact and more focused on returns on investment. This approach has been successfully used by Western companies operating within the MSG. The sanctions and suspension regime has done little to hurt the Baimimarama regime but have pushed both Fiji and the MSG more firmly into an Asian-centric diplomatic orbit, accentuating the cleavage within the PIF (which the MSG sees as too compliant with Australian and New Zealand diplomatic interests).

Against this backdrop, Baimimarama’s inspection visit before the 19th MSG conference later  this month provides him with the opportunity to set the agenda for this year’s discussions and to solidify Fijian interests within the group. Contentious topics such as granting both Indonesia and Western Papua observer status in the MSG (given Indonesian occupation of  Western Papua) are likely to be downplayed in favor of a consensus on strengthening ties with non-Western states and solidifying the MSG’s pre-eminent position within the PIF, at the expense of the PLG (and the much smaller Micronesian States Chief Executives Group).
Consolidating his position as leader of the MSG reinforces Baimimarama’s position at home, where in the face of Western demands that he keep to a timetable leading to open elections in 2014 he can point to demonstrable gains in terms of Fijian influence in regional politics as well as increases in Asian capital investments in that country (even if the country has experienced negligible net growth in the last decade). Bolstered by such events, the Baimimarama regime may feel confident enough to delay or cancel the elections, which will have major implications for the PIF.

The rift within the PIF  is evident in increased MSG demands that Fiji be included in any PIF trade discussions (such as PACER Plus). Whichever the approach adopted by the PIF Secretariat (inclusion of Fiji on matters of trade or its ongoing suspension), the division between the MSG and PLG is likely to widen in 2012. Boosted by the influx of foreign investment in minerals and energy exploitation, the MSG is in a position to make demands within the PIF that it previously could not. Given the failure of the sanctions regime, the inclusion of Fiji in future trade talks (the next PIF forum is in late August) could be a way of incrementally restoring it to full membership status while allowing Canberra and Wellington to save face (recent reports suggest that Australia and New Zealand are already re-considering the issue of Fijian sanctions). The ball is in the MSG court, with Fiji controlling the MSG play.

Summary PIF stability score is 5 (medium), the MSG score is 7 (good) and the PLG is 2 (low). (Stability score is ranked 1-10 on a range extending from none to full institutional capability and enforceable authority over time).
Futures Forecast: Sharpened differences between the MSG and PLG within the PIF will lead to an institutional weakening of the latter.

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