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

Monday, December 09, 2013

X-Post: Pacnews - Fiji Withdraws From What It Describes As ‘Rushed’ Trade Talks In Solomon Islands.

Source: Pacnews

Fiji has withdrawn from the Pacific ACP (PACP) meeting in Solomon Islands organised by the Forum Secretariat “as a matter of principle.”
The current meeting, meant to prepare PACP trade ministers for discussions with the European Union (EU) later in the week, was called by the Forum Secretariat before a full meeting of the PACP was allowed to take place, in direct contravention to the path agreed to by the member states. Only 6 of 14 PACP trade ministers were able to attend on such short notice.

In a very strong statement to his fellow PACP trade ministers who were present today, Attorney-General and Minister for Industry and Trade Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said PACP countries need to meet without the EU’s presence or pressure from the Forum Secretariat.

“The Pacific Trade Ministers who were present in Brussels [in October] had decided and agreed to meet separately in Fiji, not just for one day but for the necessary period required to resolve and strategise on the issues pertaining to the comprehensive EPA, vis-à-vis the outstanding and contentious issues,” he said.

The Attorney-General said that such a meeting would also allow PACP states to address the withdrawal of PNG from the negotiations in Brussels, a crucially important issue surrounding the EPA negotiations.

The AG said that by calling “rushed” trade talks with the EU before this meeting was allowed to take place, the Forum Secretariat clearly has not fulfilled its responsibility to action the decisions of the Ministers and the wishes of the member states.

“The Forum Secretariat is not here to act on behalf of the EU and they should not dictate directions to the members but provide technical advice and further our position,” [Sayed-Khaiyum] said.

The Attorney-General told his fellow ministers that the EPA was not something to play with or decide on the trot. “The reality is that the Comprehensive EPA in its current form has enormous ramifications on our policy space, sovereignty and development,” he said.

"It also constraints our ability to deliver basic socio-economic rights to our citizens.  The Fijian Constitution, assented to by the President on 6 September 2013, provides for unprecedented socio-economic rights, including the right to housing, education, health, food and the right to economic participation. We cannot let any trade agreement prevent Fiji from providing these basic necessities to our citizens," [ Sayed-Khaiyum] said.

He stated that only as a united region can the Pacific achieve a better agreement that provides markets and at the same time ensures the sustainability of vital resources for the betterment of all Pacific Islanders.

[Sayed-Khaiyum] urged fellow PACP countries not to be pressured by the EU into finalising a deal or into moving into an agreement that is less than favourable and could have detrimental long term impacts.

“In this regard, we understand the urgency of Solomon Islands, who are perhaps being pushed into acceding to the Interim EPA to secure market access of their precious fisheries resources,” he said.

The Attorney-General said that they had reached a stage in the negotiations where the PACP grouping needs the political will from the highest level.

“The region’s Leaders have been left out of the major developments in the PACP region and the EPA negotiations.  The PACP Leaders need to meet and provide the mandate to us Ministers and Officials on the way in which the EPA needs to be progressed,” [Sayed-Khaiyum] said.

At the meeting today, the AG repeated Fiji’s invitation to host a full PACP meeting at either the Leaders or Ministerial level. He concluded his remarks by saying that Fiji’s decision to withdraw from the meeting does not mean that it is abandoning its regional neighbours.

“We are and have been from the start, a strong advocate of regional solidarity, which, perhaps has been to the chagrin of the Forum Secretariat and our detractors,” [Sayed-Khaiyum] said.

“We are committed to negotiating a Comprehensive EPA, but one that is favourable to all parties, has development at its core and which is for the benefit for all our citizens,” [ Sayed-Khaiyum]said

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Tonga Broadens Diplomatic Horizons.

The 44th Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) opened this week, in Majuro, Marshalls Islands.

On the margins of the PIF Forum, an interesting development-Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister, Peter O'Neill handed over a TOP $2.2M cheque to Tonga's Prime Minster, Lord Va'kaiano, tweeted by a Tongan official.

Tongan senior officials, meet with bil-lateral discussions with PIF observers, officials from United Arab Emirates.

 Tonga's Education Minister meets Cuban Ambassador, also on the margins of the PIF.

These diplomatic engagements by Tonga are indicative of the Kingdom's intention to broaden their outlook beyond their traditional diplomatic spheres. This may be an extension of the events, derived from Tonga's relations with New Zealand that had been mildly estranged, in the wake of a fiasco surrounding the withdrawal of Tourism Aid to Tonga, linked to the use of a Chinese donated plane.

Tonga's Deputy Prime Minister, Samiu Vaipulu retaliated with a broad side at New Zealand's meddlesome behavior, "We just don’t want anyone to interfere with our internal matters. They should not. And they have done that for years. And that’s what Fiji did and we should do the same thing."

Apprehensive DFAT officials New Zealand were quick to appease the pernicious effects to diplomatic relations. A visit by Defense Force chief, Lieutenant General Rhys Jones eventuated and gym equipment was donated, as a precursor to strengthen military ties with the Kingdom, as reported by Matangi Tonga.

The excerpt of Matangi Tonga article:  

NZ Defence Chief seeks stronger ties with Tonga
Friday, August 30, 2013 - 18:05 Nuku'alofa, Tonga

The New Zealand Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant General Rhys Jones, is on a two-day counterpart visit to Tonga to ensure a stronger bond and cooperation with the Tonga Defence Services. Lt. Gen. Jones said today New Zealand and Tonga Defence have a strong close cooperation and partnership in the region over the past decade.
That long history and partnership provides a really good foundation for us to continue working strongly in the future, he said. “The objective of my visit is to ensure the relationship between our two militaries is made stronger and there is an opportunity for New Zealand Defence to engage in the right way with TDS and cemented for the future.
We have new capabilities that are available for example our patrol aircrafts are now available in greater numbers as well as our offshore patrol vessels.”

Lt. Gen. Rhys Jones and Tonga PM, Lord Tu'ivakano (Matangi Tonga)
He met with the Tonga Defence Commander Brigadier-General Tau'aika 'Uta'atu and discussed how to intergrate these capabilities into their partnership and handed over new gym equipment. “TDS has developed an infrastructure plan and we provide support where we can on each of those programs.

I also had discussions with Brigadier ‘Uta’atu over barracks and facilities development, the programs for development, and whether there is any opportunity for us to participate in,” he said. Tonga New Zealand cooperation, he said was evident in training programs where New Zealand Defence comes to Tonga and runs courses or hosts training for Tongan personnel in New Zealand. “This has gone on for decades, which has caused a deep relationship between individuals, our two defence services and formally between our two nations,” he said.

Lt. Gen. Jones said he also met Tonga's Prime Minister Lord Tu'ivakano and discussed the daily needs of the Tonga Defence and other wider issues including infrastructure development. “Tonga Defence is respected and has a good reputation around the world. TDS has gained a lot of experience having worked with the Americans in Iraq and the mission to Afghanistan alongside New Zealand and Australian troops as well as in Bougainville and in the Solomons in the Pacific region,” he said. Lt. Gen. Jones who visited Samoa and Tonga, returns to New Zealand on August 31.

Monday, February 18, 2013

X-Post: Island Business - What Lies Ahead For The Forum?

Source: Islands Business

 Dr Roman Grynberg
The last three years have certainly been amongst the most difficult in the history of the Pacific Islands Forum. Following the coup by Frank Bainimarama in 2006, the Forum excluded Fiji from its meetings and created an isolation that has officially continued but has crumbled as more and more of Fiji’s neighbours have been showing a willingness to deal with the incumbent administration in Suva.

This isolation of the government in Suva by the Forum was pushed wholeheartedly by Australia and New Zealand and initially supported in a very grudging way by the Pacific islands states. Some like Samoa were ardent supporters of the Forum’s ‘cordon sanitarie’ around Bainimarama’s administration. Samoa left their man, former Samoan ambassador and current Secretary-General of the Forum Tuiloma Neroni Slade, to implement a policy conceived in Canberra and supported by Apia and Wellington.

The only problem was sitting in Suva it was a difficult for Tuiloma to do his masters’ bidding when increasingly Bainimarama was able to undermine the apparent but weak Forum solidarity regarding democracy, especially in Melanesia as well as amongst the smaller neighbours like Tuvalu which, while totally financially dependent on Canberra, were logistically totally dependent upon Fiji.

In tandem with the Forum’s failing Fiji policy, the last three years have seen the accelerating loss of any faith in the Forum as an institution that could conceivably represent any interest other than that of Australia and New Zealand and those governments totally financially dependent upon them. The first great loss was conceived as a means of dealing with the islands during the PACER Plus negotiations. The Forum Secretariat recognised that it could not help the islands in their negotiations for a trade agreement with Australia and New Zealand.

The formal reason given was that it could not take sides but the real reason was that the islands no longer trusted the Forum. In fact, the Forum always seemed to take sides—not in favour of the islands but in favour of Canberra and Wellington.

All substantial economic documents the organisation produced was given to Canberra and Wellington first and they were allowed to change documents before any islands state saw them. It was for this reason that the islands created the Office of the Chief Trade Adviser in Port Vila to provide advice during the negotiations that was not controlled by Canberra.

Last year, under pressure from Papua New Guinea, a special leaders summit occurred in Port Moresby which essentially agreed to the creation of a Pacific ACP Secretariat in PNG, taking away a further function from the increasingly emasculated Forum Secretariat. In large part, this was driven by PNG’s commercial interests in dominating the Pacific ACP group agenda but was also supported by those countries which felt, quite correctly, that excluding Fiji from ACP meetings at the Forum, relegating officials to SPC meetings and excluding Bainimarama and his ministers was a step too far.

Fiji, while subject to sanctions by both the Forum and Commonwealth, had not been excluded from the ACP councils or formally sanctioned by the European Union. As a result, the Forum’s decision to not include Fiji in ACP meetings that occur under the auspices of the Forum and not provide ministers with services was seen as too much.

Roman Grynberg

" In tandem with the Forum’s failing Fiji policy, the last three years have seen the accelerating loss of any faith in the Forum as an institution that could conceivably represent any interest other than that of Australia and New Zealand and those governments totally financially dependent upon them. The first great loss was conceived as a means of dealing with the islands during the PACER Plus negotiations. The Forum Secretariat recognised that it could not help the islands in their negotiations for a trade agreement with Australia and New Zealand [...]

Tuiloma has overseen the dismantling of the trade and economic functions of the Forum. He has done his masters’ bidding on Fiji and they will be most pleased with him. But as a superannuated septuagenarian who will trot off into the sunset, how will his legacy look? Not good unless he does something in the next two years with the only remaining economic instrument left in the Forum’s purview—the Pacific Plan. "
Prior to the Port Moresby meeting, PIFS, clearly sensing that its position had become untenable, tried to circulate a paper saying it would support Fiji but it was clearly too late. The Forum has tried to loudly protest the decision to create a Pacific ACP office, further hollowing out its economic functions.
There are, of course, several problems with the Pacific ACP leaders’ decision. The first is that who will fund the organisation? Certainly, based on all the precedents—it will not be the islands who love creating organisations with highly paid directors but not paying for it themselves.

Can PNG provide any real assurances that if the EU does fund such a body that there will be something resembling good financial governance? And perhaps most importantly, tucked away quietly in Port Moresby, will it be anything other than a tool for the PNG government and private sector to advance their interests.
The islands’ decision to move the ACP leaders meeting to PNG will almost certainly mean that ACP work will also migrate from the Forum. It may be one decision the other islands will come to regret in the coming years as PNG expands its oil and gas driven power and influence in the region.

Tuiloma has just begun his last three-year term and will become in effect a lame duck late next year when his heir apparent, the ‘eternal-Secretary-General-in-waiting’ and former Fiji Foreign Minister, Kaliopate Tavola will probably be anointed. Tuiloma has overseen the dismantling of the trade and economic functions of the Forum. He has done his masters’ bidding on Fiji and they will be most pleased with him.

But as a superannuated septuagenarian who will trot off into the sunset, how will his legacy look? Not good unless he does something in the next two years with the only remaining economic instrument left in the Forum’s purview—the Pacific Plan.

In theory and on superficial reading, the Pacific Plan constituted the most serious effort ever by political leaders in the Pacific to address the fundamental inability of most of the government administrations in the region to deal with a complex range of issues by virtue of their small size. There were numerous objectives but essentially it was a political attempt to pool resources and deal with the absence of economies of scale in the islands.

The Pacific Plan was a rather typical top-down attempt at reform. It was initiated not by an islands leader but by then New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark who remained the driving force behind it throughout 2003/2004. An eminent persons group was formed, special leaders summit was called and islands states sagaciously nodded approval for the Pacific Plan in 2004. Having received an endorsement for her ‘big idea’, Clark could ‘tick the box’ and move on to bigger things.

The only problem was that neither Clark’s officials and certainly not their Australian counterparts took the Pacific Plan seriously. What evolved was a classic and cynical bureaucratic response to what was perceived as an imposed, alien and unnecessary political process.ANZ and regional officials basically took the regional aid programmes that they were already implementing and renamed them the Pacific Plan.

There was also little or no support from the islands as it soon became evident that the Plan was merely window dressing, a renaming of whatever Australia and New Zealand bureaucrats were, in any case, planning to do. Thus the Pacific Plan, became the walking dead, a political zombie from a previous decade that continues to live in name only. It failed because it had no obvious island champions nor any real roots in the islands.

Now the Pacific Plan is being reviewed by former PNG Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta and if the normal course of such reviews proceed, then what will emerge are eminently sensible but with minor technocratic adjustments. Many of the proposals for the real pooling of resources have never happened and will never be implemented until political leaders at the Forum stop allowing their bureaucrats to dictate the direction and pace of integration, ie until they actually lead.

Tuiloma could use the review of the Forum to address the real political issues that underlie the failure of the Pacific Plan to make any concrete change in the way Pacific Islands deal with their problems which are structural in nature. This would give Tuiloma’s tenure as Secretary-General a real legacy that matters to the future of the islands.

Club Em Designs

Friday, November 30, 2012

X- Post: The Strategist - Suva Comes In From The Cold – But Canberra Feels The Chill

Source: The Strategist

30 Nov 2012
41st Pacific Islands Forum, 2010
special meeting in Port Moresby on Wednesday has ended Fiji’s exclusion from the deliberations of the Pacific group of the European Union’s ACP (Asia Caribbean Pacific) association. That mightn’t sound like the biggest news story around, but it was front-page news in Suva. It scarcely rated a mention in Australian newspapers but it was bad news for Canberra, whatever the government might try to make of our neighbours’ action.

The Pacific Island states agreed to shift the secretariat functions on trade negotiations for the Pacific ACP group from the Pacific Islands Forum to Papua New Guinea. The decision weakens both the Pacific Islands Forum and the influence that Canberra has long enjoyed through it. Since early 2009, Australia and New Zealand have used their influence in the Forum to extend Fiji’s exclusion from important regional affairs like the Pacific ACP meetings, manoeuvring to deem Fiji’s suspension from the Forum to include joint activities with the Forum, even where the corresponding body had imposed no such sanctions on Fiji.

We need to be careful to avoid looking like the South Pacific is an afterthought to Australia’s broader strategy. While Canberra continues to talk of the ‘Asian Century’, the Pacific Islanders are certain that it is an ‘Asia–Pacific Century’.

Our Pacific Island neighbours know that their place in evolving global geo-politics depends on effective relations with Asia. That’s why they’re extending and expanding these relationships while strengthening compatible traditional arrangements. The ACP group has been important for trade and aid relations with all the EU member states’ former dependencies. It has become critical as the EU and the ACP states adjust to changing global economic conditions.

Richard Herr

" Our Pacific Island neighbours know that their place in evolving global geo-politics depends on effective relations with Asia [...]

The Forum does vital work for the region and is much valued for that but it is verging on a crisis of legitimacy. By entangling sanctions and its wider program of work, it has overplayed its hand politically. "
Australia is a foundation member of the Forum but isn’t a member of the ACP; a point unlined by the Fiji Sun in its editorial on the Port Moresby decision. Managing elements of these ties for the Pacific group through the Forum had been a significant gesture of faith in the Forum as well as a useful connection for Canberra. But Australia was outflanked when PNG took the Forum Secretariat out of the regional game by offering to host and to pay for the Pacific ACP group’s secretarial functions on trade negotiations.

Fijian Interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama wasn’t alone in seeing the PNG gesture as working to build up the Melanesian Spearhead Group’s (MSG) influence within the region at the expense of the Forum. This plays to Fiji’s advantage, which is why it has been active in promoting the MSG (which includes neither Australia nor New Zealand) over the Forum. This play was made possible by the ill-advised use of the Forum as a vehicle for sanctions. The MSG member states—Fiji, PNG, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu—comprise the largest and most significantly resource rich part of the Pacific Islands region. It is by far the area of most interest to Asia.

Others have lined up to support this move. Solomons’ Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo described the decision in Port Moresby to establish a Pacific ACP secretariat in Papua New Guinea as a major breakthrough. This is part of a trend. Since the Bainimarama coup in December 2006, various Australian governments have also watched impotently as Australia’s Pacific Island neighbours have moved away from the Forum towards the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) group, which has taken on the role of regional leadership at the United Nations. These states, all members of the Forum, have done so on the same grounds as the Pacific ACP leadership. Like the MSG, PSIDS excludes Australia and New Zealand and has been accepted by many UN member states as the more authentic face of the Pacific Islands.

The Forum does vital work for the region and is much valued for that but it is verging on a crisis of legitimacy. By entangling sanctions and its wider program of work, it has overplayed its hand politically. Virtually all the blame of this can be laid at the doorstep of Canberra and Wellington. For example, the failure to readmit Fiji at this year’s Forum Leaders Meeting was a serious error of judgment. Foreign Minister Bob Carr’s view of ‘too soon’ contrasts glaringly with President Obama’s recent remarks in Myanmar. Obama didn’t say that his visit was ‘too soon’, but that it was intended to strengthen the return to democracy in a country that reportedly still has hundreds of political prisoners.

The Pacific ACP decision is a direct consequence of Canberra’s timidity and hesitancy with regard to Fiji. This continues to work against our own regional interests and those of our neighbours, at a serious cost to our place amongst them in the Forum.

Richard Herr is an honorary research associate at the University of Tasmania’s School of Government.

Further Reading:

Club Em Designs

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

X-Post: IPS - Fiji’s Leadership of G77 a ‘Rare Opportunity’ for the Pacific.

Source: Inter Press Service 

BRISBANE, Oct 15 2012 (IPS) - For the first time in 48 years, a Pacific Small Island Developing State (PSIDS) is gearing up to assume chairmanship of the Group of 77 developing nations plus China.

In 2013, the Republic of Fiji – located between Vanuatu and Tonga in the South Pacific and currently under a military government led by Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama – will take leadership of the largest intergovernmental coalition within the United Nations, replacing the incumbent chair, Algeria.
“Fiji’s election to the Chair of the Group of 77 and China (G77) for 2013 demonstrates the international community’s (confidence in us) to preside over the 132-member organisation in its endeavour to advance international matters that are of great importance to all developing countries,” Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, Fiji’s minister for foreign affairs and international cooperation, told IPS.

The G77 was formed in 1964 with 77 founding member states, representing a collective ambition by developing nations to advance their international voice and influence on world trade. Since then, the G77, now comprising 132 member states, has championed South-South cooperation as a key strategy to boost standards of living and economic fortunes in the global South.

Catherine Wilson

" Fiji’s chairmanship of the G77 will give the country’s leadership a chance to reach out to the rest of the region by way of consultation in order to make sure a regional voice can be heard on the international stage "

The intergovernmental group, which has identified the eradication of poverty as one of its greatest challenges, was also influential in developing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). According to a United Nations report last year, South-South cooperation has boosted development and investment between developing countries and is a formidable driver of economic growth.  Between 1990 and 2008 world trade expanded four-fold, while South-South trade multiplied more than 20 times.

Fiji’s rising role

Fiji’s new role within the U.N. was confirmed at the G77 foreign ministers’ meeting in New York on Sep. 28. The island state, with a population of about 868,000 spread over more than 330 islands, has an economy dominated by the sugar and tourism industries, as well as the highest national human development ranking within the Pacific sub-region of Melanesia.

However, an ongoing struggle for political power between indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians – descendants of nineteenth century Indian immigrant labourers – has fuelled four military coups since 1987. During the most recent one in 2006, Bainimarama, commander of Fiji’s military forces, took over the presidency and dissolved parliament in an alleged attempt to stifle corruption. His declared aim is to reform the race-based electoral system and draft a new constitution, following nationwide consultations, ahead of planned democratic elections in 2014. But Fiji’s refusal to hold democratic elections by 2010 led to international sanctions and its suspension in 2009 from the Commonwealth and the Pacific Islands Forum, a regional intergovernmental group of independent and self-governing states.

The government of Fiji currently receives significant economic aid and political support from China.  It also remains politically engaged in the South-west Pacific as an active member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), an intergovernmental group comprising Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and New Caledonia.

Nikunj Soni, board chair of the Pacific Institute of Public Policy (PIPP), an independent regional think tank based in Port Vila, Vanuatu, told IPS that with the emergence of a range of advocacy platforms, such as the MSG and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the Pacific Islands Forum was no longer the sole organisation through which the islands could coordinate a voice.

“Fiji’s chairmanship of the G77 will give the country’s leadership a chance to reach out to the rest of the region by way of consultation in order to make sure a regional voice can be heard on the international stage,” Soni told IPS. “The Pacific will have a rare opportunity to represent itself on the global stage…”
This is becoming increasingly important for the Pacific Islands as neighbouring superpowers like China and the U.S. set their sights on the archipelago as a crucial geo-strategic location.

China is increasing its investment and presence in the islands, while the U.S. has made moves to renew its engagement with the Pacific region in areas ranging from aid to security, and has deepened defence ties with Australia. The Pacific Islands are also rich in mineral, forest and marine resources. The PIPP emphasised that increasing the region’s international voice on issues of security and resource management in the context of climate change was a top priority.

“With the Pacific Ocean covering half of the world’s ocean area and one third its total surface area, the region contains some of the largest unexploited natural resources and some of the most climate vulnerable nations on earth,” Soni explained. “It remains important that small island developing states are not used by larger powers as proxies for their own geopolitical battles. At the same time, we must be able to protect our natural resources for the benefit of our own peoples.”

The global influence of the G77 will only increase as developing countries, especially Brazil, China and India, emerge as the new leaders of world economic growth. According to this year’s U.N. global economic outlook, developing countries will grow an average of 5.9 percent in 2013, while developed countries are likely to average only 1.9 percent growth.

But this year’s G77 Ministerial Meeting in New York also highlighted many challenges ahead for the coalition of developing nations, including the impact of the global financial crisis on world trade, food security, the fight against poverty, technology transfers and efforts to combat the severe effects of climate change.
“More recently, the G77 has taken on negotiating positions in areas of climate change and sustainable development, the two areas which PSIDS focuses on in New York,” Kubuabola stated.
“These are the two areas Fiji wishes to place emphasis on to ensure that the interests of all developing countries, including those of PSIDS, are effectively addressed.”

During a speech at the G77 meeting in September, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for economic and social affairs, Wu Hongbo, pointed out that the G77 also had an influential role to play in drafting the global Sustainable Development Goals, one outcome of the Rio+20 Earth Summit held in Brazil in June.


Club Em Designs

Saturday, September 29, 2012

X-Post: Gateway House- The Geo-strategic Pacific Islands

By Tevita Motutalo

Source: Gateway House

Traditionally, the South Pacific islands have been considered strategically insignificant. However, the need for resources, and the geopolitical shift towards Asia-Pacific have prompted nations to realize that these small island states control large resource-rich ocean areas and are increasingly geostrategic.

“Five trillion dollars of commerce rides on the (Asia-Pacific) sea lanes each year, and you people are sitting right in the middle of it.”
(USPACOM chief Admiral Samuel Locklear, Pacific Island Forum, Cook Islands, 2012.)

From August 27 - 31, leaders from countries as far afield as India, China and the U.S. converged on the tiny Aitutaki Island in the South Pacific to meet members of the 16-country Pacific Island Forum. The need for resources and geopolitical rebalancing has raised the profile of the region so much that, for the first time, a U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, attended the Forum — a clear demonstration that the U.S. is serious about its Pacific “pivot” to Asia.

The reason is China. In March last year, Clinton told the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee about the region: “Let’s just talk straight realpolitik. We are in a competition with China. China is in there every day in every way, trying to figure out how it’s going to come in behind us, come in under us.”

Last weekend, U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta passed by New Zealand reinforcing Clinton’s Forum debut, and China’s Secretary of National People’s Congress, Wu Bangguo returned from Fiji after inking several economic cooperation pacts with the military government there including Chinese assistance for cultural and educational development and teaching the Chinese language in the Fijian national curriculum.

According to Wu, Sino-Fijian trade was worth $ 172 million last year, up from 34% in the year prior.
India’s delegation to the Forum was high profile, led by Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed. Apart from resources, and strategic positioning, the Pacific also controls a relatively large number of votes in international fora, and India is keen to secure support for its bid for a seat for the United Nation’s Security Council.

But one of India’s strongest allies in the region wasn’t invited – Fiji. A key item on the Forum’s agenda was whether or not to readmit Fiji. Fiji has been central to Indian interests in the region. Following the 2006 coup, at the urging of Australia and New Zealand, sanctions were brought against Fiji and, whilst also suspended from the Forum in 2009. When India attempted to assist, it was warded off by Canberra. Consequently, the Fijian regime fell in deep with the remaining alternative active player in the region, China, one of the biggest investors in the region thereby receiving generous economic and military cooperation from Beijing.

The sanctions are of PIF-origin, and as China is not a member of the Forum, it is not bound to obey. These sanctions, issued by Australia, New Zealand, and the EU, resulted in the reduction of their aid assistance, a restriction on visas or transit for any member of the Fijian regime, and of course on trade.

The welfare of the more than 300,000 Fijian Indians in Fiji, and more amongst the Pacific states, is a core interest for India: a united, stable region decreases complications for region’s bloc support for India.
Fiji’s continued suspension is fragmenting the region. Isolated, Fiji shepherded a more consolidated, mineral-rich, Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG)- though created in 1983 it remained docile within the Forum until, following Fiji’s lead, it was formalised in 2007 taking on a “Look North” foreign policy cline.

This sub-regional grouping includes the majority ethnic Melanesian nations of Fiji, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, and is backed by China (which has built the MSG secretariat in Vanuatu). In response, last year, as relations continued to deteriorate, New Zealand by proxy, helped create a competing “Polynesian Leaders Group.” comprised of majority ethically Polynesian nations.

This use of racial politics – the attempt to pit against each other the normally friendly Melanesians and Polynesians – was spurred and sponsored by Australia and New Zealand because it seemed to suit their short-term political goals. Instead, it is creating regional instability, something that ultimately benefits China. China itself is also bringing volatility to the region, with increasing cases of crime and drug and human trafficking linked to Chinese nationals.

Australia and New Zealand can reverse this trend. Just before and since after this year's Forum, both country’s leaders have started echoing reintegration of Fiji into regional bloc, lifting sanctions, and also even further to incentivize positive developments that will lead to elections in 2014, as promised by the Bainimarama government. The U.S. understands the implications and, before the Forum, expressed its expectation that Fiji be reinstated into the Forum. In spite of wide support, Australia and New Zealand blocked the move.

This raises questions about the priorities of some policy makers in Australia and New Zealand. They cite two reasons for the continued marginalisation of Fiji:
  1. If Fiji relations are normalised, it may grow as a more important regional political and economic hub (given its central location even now most of the regional organisations’ headquarters are located in Suva), challenging Canberra and Wellington’s role as the go-to places for Pacific investment and regional insight.
  2. While most in Wellington and Canberra undoubtedly value their strong relationship with the West, some policy-makers seem to be tempering that with a desire to have stronger economic and—as a result increasingly political–ties with China.
The second point is raising the most concerns in global capitals. Recently, former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating called on the U.S. to “share” the Pacific with China. And New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Bill English declared that “Australia is a province of China, and New Zealand is a suburb of Australia.”

While Australia’s stated reason for the exclusion of Fiji from the Forum is its abolition of democracy, some influential figures in Canberra seem to have no problem engaging with even more autocratic governments that, unlike Fiji, have no plans to reintroduce democracy. In August, for example, Keating justified engagement with China by writing: “If we are pressed into the notion only democratic governments are legitimate, our future is limited to action within some confederation of democracies.”

Australian and New Zealand foreign policy is going through an internal civil war, with one side willing to sacrifice values and the trust of its traditional allies for the perception of economic gain from China (Wikileaks exposed that Australia pushed Nauru to derecognise Taiwan in favour of Beijing), and the other solidly part of the West.

Myopic and petty regional policies of Fiji’s marginalisation threw the door wide open for, and only benefits, China. Challenges to the region are heightening and so apparent, the U.S. now has to intervene directly to try to reinvigorate a West-friendly Pacific. Clinton declared the region “strategically and economically vital and becoming more so,” yet “big enough for all of us.” But her presence was signal intent to counter Chinese inroads. Beijing already assumes it has neutered Australia (and, presumably, doesn’t even bother about New Zealand).

 An editorial in the state-run People’s Daily—on 30th August in response to the US’s aircraft carrier presence at the Forum—stated that, in the Pacific, “The U.S. may have evaluated that Australia alone is no longer enough to hold China at bay.”

 For all the inroads created by inept policies in Fiji, Wu is reported to have taken a swipe at sanctions imposed on Fiji, and with a symbolic gesture, as guarantor of Fijian national interests, will oppose countries that are trying to “bully” Fiji. It effectively means China does not owe Australia and New Zealand any favours for misplacing their cards. Secondly, as China thinks its interests are linked with those of the island countries, this gives China opportunities for wide justification to intervene in South Pacific security – especially given the expectation afforded to it as a global power.

The divisive politics on show at the Forum need to stop. A first step, something that India can assist with, is welcoming Fiji back to the family, and helping it through its democratisation.

Tevita Motulalo is a Researcher at Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. He is the former Editor of the Tonga Chronicle. He is currently pursuing a Master's Degree in geopolitics at Manipal University.

Related: The visit to Fiji of H.E. Wu Bangguo - Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National Peoples Congress of the Peoples Republic of China (video posted below)

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Monday, September 24, 2012

X-Post: PacificUS - With Panetta’s Visit, US – NZ Defense Relationship Evolving Amid Pacific Rebalancing.

Last Saturday, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta left for his third trip to the Asia-Pacific this year, scheduling stops in Japan, China and New Zealand.  Panetta’s visits to Japan and China are attempts to smooth relations between the states, and the trip to New Zealand is a follow-up from the visit earlier this year to Washington, DC by NZ Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman.  The trip will be the first time in 30 years that a US Defense Secretary has visited New Zealand, and marks a change in regional strategic dynamics.  

A critical part of the Obama Administration’s rebalancing in the Asia-Pacific includes repairing and deepening strategic relationships with New Zealand (among other smaller and medium-sized states) and to sustain opportunities for regular, high-level dialogue.  While New Zealand does not have a sizeable defense force to contribute to US-led operations, the small democracy is a valuable ally that can serve as an ‘honest broker’ and voice of legitimacy in the Asia-Pacific.

Pivoting for the Pacific’s Sake? Not Likely. 

Recently, New Zealand has received undue attention from American diplomats and cabinet secretaries because the US has much to gain politically and economically (if not militarily) from the bilateral relationship.  Whether the National or Labour Party is in government, New Zealand has a reputation both regionally and internationally as a state with a strong pacifist orientation that advocates for its values and the wellbeing of its Pacific neighbors.  As a founding member of and voice within the Pacific Islands Forum, New Zealand can be a significant agent for American interests during the leaders’ meetings.  Moreover, New Zealand’s promotion of US naval patrols, development assistance, trade relations, diplomatic connections and so forth would enable the US to exercise greater power projection in the region.

The 1984 Labour government’s nuclear-free announcement reflected in part New Zealand’s continuous desire for an independent foreign policy based on “conflict avoidance and resolution, humanitarian assistance, human rights, and environmental defense.”  The declaration prohibiting American nuclear ships from their ports was a policy move that was necessitated by public opinion and new Labour supporters and representatives.  Since its proclamation, the nuclear-free policy has been largely nonpartisan. 

While the strategic dimension of US-NZ relations faltered from the 1980’s, it never disappeared, and was supplemented by intelligence collaboration.  In addition to a strong commitment to special forces training and deployment (particularly the New Zealand Special Air Services), the intelligence-sharing between the US and New Zealand has remained significant since 1946. Despite disagreement with the US government over the invasion of Iraq, intelligence sharing remained consistent.  In fact, after 2001, New Zealand increased its intelligence budget by 30 percent while decreasing its overall defense budget.

Maritime defense, domain awareness, and disaster rescue operations are essential areas of mutual concern for New Zealand and the US in the Pacific, particularly given the Christchurch earthquake, China’s soft loans to Pacific island nations, and overfishing.  For the first time in 28 years, the New Zealand Defence Force participated in the Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) in July-August, the largest international maritime exercise.  Interoperability is a key component of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy in the Pacific, and as Nathan Smith writes, the exercises served both diplomatic and more practical purposes for New Zealand and Australia.  

Security concerns for New Zealand focus on the sea lines of communication due to heavy reliance on maritime trade; the country’s small blue-water navy is primarily geared for search and rescue and maritime interdiction.  Despite not being allowed to berth ships in Pearl Harbor due to the nuclear-free policy (in contrast to former foes Japan and Russia), Kiwi sailors did not seemed fussed, and took advantage of the nightlife offered by Honolulu.

As we have seen through the signing of the Wellington and Washington Declarations, the current National Government is in agreement with the Obama Administration’s Pacific rebalancing.  Moreover, the close relationship between US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and NZ Ambassador to the US Michael Moore, and the work US Ambassador to NZ David Huebner has done in Wellington are examples of peoples and governments that seek mutual benefits and understanding.
Improving understanding rather than compromising on ideals

A question that NZ Defence Minister Coleman will face in meeting with Secretary Panetta is how much more New Zealand will be able to commit to the bilateral relationship without sacrificing its ideals.  There will almost surely be a small demonstration in Wellington during Secretary Panetta’s visit about the TPP, or anti-US policies led by local anarchists from Aro Valley, as there is during most high profile visits.  However, in most cases it seems that the New Zealand government knows when and when not to compromise on foreign policy issues, with bipartisan support for free trade agreements.

New Zealand can leverage an improved defense relationship with the US to secure better terms for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) and other future trade agreements (including a potential US-NZ FTA as sought by New Zealand).  The latest negotiation terms for the TPP are not public; however controversial public issues being debated concern intellectual property rights and copyright law, both of which have been met by public protests and contestation from New Zealand and Australia.  If the US gets what it wants in terms of defense initiatives, it may soften some of the demands of the TTP and open a path to a US-NZ FTA.

Setting the nuclear-free policy aside, both National and Labour governments have been fairly amicable to US defense relations.  So what more could New Zealand gain from a “stronger and deeper bilateral defense relationship” as set out in the Washington Declaration?  With both sides facilitating the establishment of “regular, senior-level, strategic policy dialogues between the US DoD and NZ Ministry of Defence and NZDF,” New Zealand can not only legitimate the US strategic involvement in the region but can continue to bolster its own authority.  Welcoming perhaps the strongest ally with shared values and democratic ideals can serve to boost Kiwi clout and spur domestic confidence

Development assistance in the Pacific is another area of mutual interest with opportunity for growth.  Australia provides half of all official development assistance to Papua New Guinea and Pacific island countries (AUD$1.17 billion) and New Zealand spends more than half of its country programs budget on Pacific island countries. At the latest Pacific Islands Forum, the US showed that it is ready to lift a portion of the development aid load in the Pacific; US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton announced $32M in new aid programs 18 years after ending such programs in the Pacific.

As former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Secretary Panetta should be attuned to the value that New Zealand provides as a voice and ear in the Asia-Pacific.  One Kiwi commentator wrote that New Zealand should be weary of his arrival in the country, and that the US will ask too much from Kiwis.  However, the RIMPAC ship porting issue notwithstanding, strategic and diplomatic relations between the US and New Zealand have moved forward since 2007.  

Leadership of both states are keen to return to an era of stronger defense ties to help guarantee their security and to enhance stability in the Pacific.  Having met already this year in Washington, DC, the meeting this week between defense bosses is likely more of a touch point to ensure regular high-level dialogue occurs.  With the Washington Declaration in place and successes to build on from the past year, the additional avenues for deepening defense cooperation may be limited but may be milestones nonetheless.


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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

US Assistant Secretary of State, Kurt Campbell CSIS Discussion - Reviewing the PIF 2012.

U. S think tank, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) hosted a discussion with Assistant Secretary of State, Kurt M. Campbell, which covered for the most part, the Post Forum Dialogue at the 2012 Pacific Islands Forum.

During the Q & A segment, at approx [16.20 min mark], a representative from the Fiji Embassy at Washington D.C, took exception to the remarks made by Campbell alluding that "Fiji had no clear path to democracy" and corrected the erroneous statements .

The Fiji Embassy representative highlighted quintessential progress with respect to the Road map, Electoral processes and the Constitutional Commission, that were not duly recognized by Fiji's metropolitan neighbors- in effect, poisoning the well during the Trilateral meet at the Post-Forum dialogue, resulting in the misrepresentation of facts, by Secretary Campbell.

Video of the discussion (posted below).

Audio of the discussion (posted below)

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Apppear- The Relevance Of Pacific Islands Forum To Fiji.

The 43rd Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) in Cook Islands has been hyped as a much anticipated affair, not so much about the agenda, but more so about the invited guests-some with a higher profile than others. In a press briefing, PIF General Secretary, Neori Slade, admonished the journalists covering the PIF: “So if you can concentrate without getting too hyper on personalities (like US secretary of state Hillary Clinton) I think we’ll appreciate it.” 

Slade also mentioned that ,the journalists should not be sidetracked about the major powers attending the Forum and adroitly maneuvered the conversation to the prepared talking points of the PIF agenda. An important consideration, is that, the major power players attending the PIF did not travel thousands of miles to the Cook Islands, to chat about the dangers of climate change or just to exchange diplomatic niceties.
It is about furthering their own interests and maintaining their spheres of influence. Steven Ratuva, a Pacific affairs specialist at Auckland University, expressed his opinion with Pacific Scoop  regarding the current affairs: " [T]he US was trying to establish dominance in the Forum this year was because China had a strong foothold with the MSG, a powerful body in terms of its political power within the Forum, particularly through funding of infrastructure and supporting MSG operations.”

Graham Davis latest posting on Grubsheet, illustrated the undulated diplomatic landscape:
Hilary Clinton, who is making the first visit to a Forum summit by a US Secretary of State. Clinton knows that Fiji is too big to be ignored, too strategically important to be sidelined and that it’s high time its isolation was ended. This is almost certain to be the last time Bainimarama is excluded as America works this week to persuade its ANZUS partners, in particular, to bring him in from the cold.
There is no doubt that, the intransigent policies from Canberra and Wellington in isolating Fiji has resoundingly failed, and under girded their own shortcomings. Ratuva added: “[I]n spite of being suspended from the Forum, Fiji has some cards falling its way[...]Instead of weakening Fiji’s position, the suspension is actually strengthening it.”

Unquestionably, Fiji's suspension from PIF has opened up alternative channels of diplomatic exchanges, that invariably makes the PIF inextricably, obsolete. In an opinion piece in the The AustralianMichael O'Keefe, addressed the challenges to the PIF: "[The Pacific Islands Forum] will either forge a new path for the region's pre-eminent institution or give ground to the alternative architecture that has grown since Fiji's suspension from participation."

Fiji Hosts 3rd Engaging the Pacific Meeting -Pacific SIDS (video posted below)

Ratuva addressed the benefits of the 'free agent' status of Fiji's diplomacy: “[...]Fiji can do anything, it can mobilise its ‘alternative forum’ outside the Forum, and it has also strengthened the Melanesian Spearhead Group, because now the MSG is keeping tightly close as a group because they came around through Fiji’s support.”

Davis points out the waning relevance of the PIF:
Clinton knows that the Pacific Forum is a shadow of its former self so long as Fiji is excluded. Why? Because no Pacific plan of action can realistically be implemented without the country’s participation. It is too significant and too influential to be bypassed. It has also successfully defied all attempts by its bigger southern neighbours -Australia and NZ – to bring it to heel and has demonstrated a nimble dexterity to find support wherever it can.

O'Keefe added to the narrative of failed policies of isolating Fiji:
The rise of alternative forms of regionalism is a direct result of Fiji's suspension and poses the largest challenge to Australia[...]Fiji has made new friends and opened up new avenues of co-operation and as Australia chooses to re-engage it will be operating in a vastly different Pacific seascape. In this climate the continuing relevance of the PIF will need to be demonstrated rather than simply asserted. Fiji is not likely to accept the status quo and may need to be encouraged to resume its engagement with PIF.
Among Fiji's alternative diplomatic engagements, is their attendance to the Non-Alignment -Movement (NAM) Summit in Tehran; currently in session.

Analysis of NAM group. (video posted below)

This 120 member group of countries, include notable members of the BRICS, have come of age and are quietly overshadowing the Western bloc of countries, in terms of influence in shaping World affairs. NAM accounts for 14% of the World's GDP. There are three NAM Pacific island nations: Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, who are also members of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG).

NAM policies are diametrically opposite to that of the ANZUS alliance, with respect to Non-Interference. Australia and New Zealand's role in Pax-Americana have eroded any perception of being a honest broker in the Pacific region. Notwithstanding, the tainted colonial history of the Trans-Tasman cousins, further compounds this .

This diplomatic coalescing of MSG and NAM principles in Pacific affairs, would represent a significant threat to the interests and influence of the Trans-Tasman countries in the region. There appears to be a similar situation of failed isolation policies affecting both Fiji and Iran. In both cases, Western aligned countries have attempted to isolate them.
In both cases, each have been recently elected to chair the important nation groups-MSG and NAM respectively. The policies and its architects, have since demonstrably been rejected. Without a doubt, these series of diplomatic Faux Pas in the Western Alliance, underscores their demise of influence. In discussions with Metropolitan neighbors and the Island diplomats, the stakes in the Pacific are simply undermentioned; but the leverage the Islanders wield are widely understood.


Fars News: Iran to establish diplomatic ties with Fiji.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Coming In From The Cold?

In recent months Fiji has welcomed to its shores, the Foreign Minister of Russia and more recently the senior diplomat of Qatar. Other bilateral meetings with Iraq and Kuwait have also eventuated, including other nations.
"Both Foreign Minster's unscheduled visit to Fiji, is somewhat symbolic in nature, as well as a face saving gesture to restore what shreds of their spheres of influence left intact since their self-imposed absence."

The recent announcement of the nascent Australian Foreign Minister, Bob Carr to visit Fiji, in mid stream of his Washington stop, was quite surprising to say the least . However, Carr's Fiji's stop was undoubtedly influenced by a little chat with  the 'foggy bottom' folks quite concerned at Canberra and Wellington's incessant refusal engage directly with the Fiji Government and in the process isolated the Western aligned alliance diplomatically and undermining their regional moves on the geo-strategic chessboard. 

Tagging along with Foreign Minister Bob Carr to display a united front, is New Zealand Foreign Minister, Murray McCully who also confirmed his itinerary in joining this last minute Pacific Islands Forum Ministerial Contact Group (MCG) visit to Fiji.
It is understood that other Ministers from Pacific Island Forum (PIF) nations, notably from Polynesian client states are only present to bolster the island look of the Anglosphere duo, Carr and McCully respectively; whose nations dominate the proceedings of the Pacific Forum, an organization deemed as an anachronism by Melanesian and Micronesian states.

36th Parallel interview, (video below) outlines the current seismic change in regional affairs.

This disengagement with Fiji by the Trans-Tasman nations, had subsequently encouraged other friends of Fiji, to close ranks and displace the diplomatic rapport they once held. Both Foreign Minster's unscheduled visit to Fiji, is somewhat symbolic in nature, as well as a face saving gesture to restore what shreds of their spheres of influence left intact since their self-imposed absence.

Another unspoken agenda in their visit of both senior diplomats and colonial cousins from the metropolitan nations, is the ambition to shore up support to the former premier regional multi-lateral organization Pacific Islands Forum(PIF) that has since been languishing in the looming shadow of the regional sub-group Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG).

Another perspective by Dr. Wadan Narsey provides another independent view.

The excerpt:

Pacific tilting west to PNG – and Super Power rivalry

PNG gold bars
Papua New Guinea gold ... vast mineral wealth changing Pacific politics
Photo: Kiridaresources

Pacific Scoop:
Commentary – By economist Professor Wadan Narsey
If this was a news release by a geologist, alarm bells would be ringing around the Pacific and international scientific community. But retitle it “Pacific politics tilting to PNG” and the alarm bells would be ringing in Samoa, Tonga and the Cooks (as I am sure they already are).
However, if Papua New Guinea ever decides to flex its burgeoning muscles, encouraged by a belligerent Fiji, the alarm bells would be ringing loudest in Canberra and Wellington.
Without doubt, Pacific politics is tilting towards the west, drawn by the all-powerful and inexorable gravitational forces of the massive LNG and other minerals wealth being generated in Papua New Guinea (and in West Papua – another sorry saga).
Pacific regional initiatives such as PICTA and EPAs with the European Union (administered by Forum Secretariat in Suva) or PACER Plus (administered through the Office of the Chief Trade Adviser in Vila) are going to be largely eclipsed by the Melanesian Spearhead Group of PNG, Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, headquartered in the Chinese built secretariat in Vila. But are the PNG politicians prepared for the leadership role that comes with their wealth and markets?
Or will they be too bogged down in their debilitating internal squabbles for political power so as to ensure preferential access to the massive new wealth flows being created?
Relations with Australia and NZ are going to be a key factor in the direction taken by PNG and the MSG group, and that will depend critically on what PACER Plus offers the PICs, and how fast.
Understanding the complex chop-suey of forces at work in the Pacific is extremely difficult, as the diversity of issues discussed by this article indicates.
Super Power rivalry
But almost certainly, history, time and the “Pacific tilt” are not on Australia’s side. More than a decade ago, US withdrew its Peace Corps programme from the Pacific.  But in 2011, US Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton warned the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee not to cut the US foreign aid budget, citing the growing competition with China for global influence, specifically mentioning the Pacific and its vast natural resources.
The US is now back in the Pacific with a large new US Embassy in Suva, to rival the equally large Chinese Embassy. US has  also now stationed a small number of troops in North Australia, a move which is seen by an annoyed China as part of the US “containment policy” towards China.
The numbers of US troops will no doubt slowly grow, alarming Australian strategy advisers who see too close an attachment to US military strategies as being potentially harmful to long term Australian economic interests, which are inextricably linked to China’s economic growth (and which was the most significant factor saving Australia from the Global Financial Crisis).
Without doubt, super-power rivalry in the Pacific is now escalating.
PNG will have far more bargaining chips than ever before, especially if its leaders are able to successfully play off one Super Power against another, and take a leadership role in the Pacific, including the MSG.
W. Narsey
" Pacific regional initiatives such as PICTA and EPAs with the European Union (administered by Forum Secretariat in Suva) or PACER Plus (administered through the Office of the Chief Trade Adviser in Vila) are going to be largely eclipsed by the Melanesian Spearhead Group of PNG, Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, headquartered in the Chinese built secretariat in Vila. "
Largest market
Papua New Guinea with its population of 7 million people is the largest market in the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA), with the others just making up less than 2 million.
Yet 10 years ago, the PNG market was not given much importance by the other Pacific Island companies because the largely rural PNG consumers were too poor to spend money on modern goods. That has now totally changed with the massive economic growth now taking place in PNG, with equally large investment and consumer expenditures from both the private sector and government.
Foreign companies, including Australian, are taking a renewed interest in PNG. Even Fiji companies have made a beeline for PNG, pushed abroad by the last six years of economic stagnation in Fiji. All of a sudden, the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) of PNG, Fiji, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu has become the substantial integration movement in the Pacific, totally eclipsing PICTA.
The MSG is also achieving trade integration advances which PICTA has failed to deliver while PACER Plus totally stagnates.
Pacific countries will continue to talk endlessly on PACER Plus, as they did when PICTA was being negotiated, with every tiny trading or local commercial interest dragging the negotiations down to a snail’s pace, to the financial delight of an army of consultants.
This strengthening of the MSG has been assisted by Fiji’s belligerent attitude towards Australia and NZ, secretly admired by the political leaders of PNG, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, who have long harboured intense resentment at what they perceive to be the paternalistic and condescending attitudes of Australian and NZ political leaders towards the Melanesians.
Underlying all this antagonism is the virtually taboo subject of Australian and NZ racism against the Melanesians, which surfaced in an oblique way at a recent conference at Deakin University in Geelong on PNG’s future.
Melanesians feel racism
This two-day conference produced many useful contributions from Australian and PNG academics and participants. But one jarring note in an otherwise diplomatic opening address by the debonair  Sir Charles Lepani (PNG High Commissioner to Australia) was his emotional complaint about the “galling” barriers faced by PNG nationals requiring a visa to come to Australia, while Australians come and go freely in PNG. This observation was greeted with applause by the largely white Australian audience, who had faced such difficulties when trying to get visas for PNG nationals.
Another senior and influential bureaucrat, a “mover and shaker” in PNG, complained bitterly that he had been coming to Australia for four decades, yet the Australian immigration department still wanted his bank balance and his grandparents’ addresses.
Ironically, while speaker after speaker (both PNG and Australian) complained about the post-independence debilitating deterioration in PNG civil service efficiency and widespread corruption, eminent Professor Ross Garnaut threw in a sobering reminder that the decades in which Australia controlled PNG before independence was “no golden era” for PNG people either, when they were required to have a permit to even come into their own capital, Moresby.
The conference was also reminded by yours truly that while Australia easily and freely gave out more than 600,000 work/holiday/study visas to a number of mostly white countries, PNG had yet to be confirmed for a quota of a mere 100
‘Blackbirding’ memories
Melanesian countries still remember their people being “blackbirded” a century ago, to clear the land in Australia for white farmers, and then callously and cruelly expelled (with the Chinese and Indians) to create the “White Australia” after federation in 1905 (led by Prime Minister Deakin). Today, the Melanesians are affronted that the descendants of that early slave labour are clearly not wanted in Australia in the way whites are.
In an evening function, very senior PNG people (including white Australian PNG “old hands”) confided quietly that the negative Australian attitude to PNG people was racism pure and simple – a continuation of the “White Australia” policy.
Few from the Melanesian Pacific would disagree, as they see that the Pacer Plus negotiations are bogged down by Australia on the one benefit that the Pacific countries feel would balance all the many costs of pure trade integration.
All PICs want is reasonable access for unskilled PIC “guest workers” into Australia – to ease their home unemployment and increase their valuable remittance earnings which has kept poverty at bay in several countries such as Fiji, Samoa, Tonga.
But for almost a decade now, Australia has been dragging its feet on proposals to let a few thousand Pacific Islands workers come to pick fruit, all under tightly controlled conditions, while 600,000 young workers from Europe, with minimal control or organisation whatsoever, come and go with a year’s permit for work and/or holiday, readily granted.
Add Sino-phobia
Many political strategists in Australia and NZ are worried about China’s rapid incursion into Pacific economies and politics, even though China is merely doing much the same kinds of things which other Super Powers and donors have done in the past century.
China may be extremely secretive about their financial flows to recipient countries and politicians. For instance, there is little publicly available data about what exactly are the loans which many Pacific countries are taking on for future generations.
But unlike Australian and NZ, China has little concern for insisting on local governance standards or basic human rights of the PIC citizens.
Sadly, the Western powers excluded China in their regional discussions with PICs, as I pointed out at a PIDP meeting in Honolulu early in 2011, on the future of the Pacific. The improbable excuse given was that there were “visa difficulties” for Chinese delegates.
It is open to question whether China will be any less racist or paternalistic or condescending than Australia or NZ.  But Chinese diplomats are not likely to make the political gaffes which Australian politicians make regularly with respect to the Pacific.
Australian failures
Australia’s failure to win the hearts and minds of Pacific political leaders may be contrasted with NZ’s greater success with Pacific countries, and with their Maori population.
No power-hungry Pacific politician is ever going to prise the Cook Islands, Tokelau or Niue (or even Samoa and Tonga) out of New Zealand’s camp.
Even Kiribati is now over the moon with Fiji, which has offered (sold) them a large block of land which will have more earth in it than all of Kiribati combined. While Kiribati’s President Tong hastily said the purchase was for food security and not settlement, there is little doubt that it also is going to provide a refuge for any I-Kiribati climate change refugees.
The I-Kiribati know that Tuvaluans are already quietly and happily acquiring property in Fiji, with no fuss whatsoever from Fiji authorities.  Tuvaluans are hard-working law-abiding residents of Fiji, enjoying all the benefits of good education for their children, health services for their sick, and a hospitable social environment.
Massive Australia, despite its daily acknowledgement of significant labour shortages for the foreseeable future, has made no such grand symbolic gesture towards the atoll countries which would have cost it so little and gained so much. It is not surprising that, apart from a few small Polynesian countries, the rest of the Melanesian and Micronesian Pacific has refused to speak out against the military regime in Fiji, despite the considerable diplomatic pressure from Australia and NZ.
W. Narsey
"Many political strategists in Australia and NZ are worried about China’s rapid incursion into Pacific economies and politics, even though China is merely doing much the same kinds of things which other Super Powers and donors have done in the past century. "
The PICs all know that Australia has been dragging its feet for a decade on PACER Plus negotiations and refusing to budge on access to Pacific unskilled labour, while the smaller NZ economy has had a small guest worker scheme operating very successfully for several years.
Australian needs to pay more attention to PNG views: one speaker at the Deakin conference on PNG futures quite bluntly told the gathering: “If Australia does not want to play ball with PNG, then we will play ball with China”.
The reality is that PNG is now positioned to lead a mass break-out of the economic barriers that Australia has built up against the ordinary poor and unskilled black populations in the Pacific.
While perpetually decrying the deterioration in governance and public services in PNG and other Melanesian countries, Australia has been ruthlessly extracting the very professional and skilled PIC citizens, whose departure is one fundamental cause of PIC economic and social disintegration.
It is a paradox to many Pacific economists why Australia is so backward in its policies towards the Melanesian countries.

Saying ‘sorry’

In the absence of any great Australian awareness of Australia’s exploitation of Kanaks in the past, it might be difficult to argue that Australia has any subconscious guilt complex towards Melanesians, as they seemed to have towards the Aboriginals.

But Australian political leaders, after a century of silence, finally said “sorry” to Aboriginals for all the horrifying injustices done to them in the past. It would be an interesting PhD to examine whether saying “sorry” has made any improvements at all to the political relationships between Australian and Aboriginal political leaders, and more importantly, to the welfare of the Aboriginals whose conditions are closer (by all the MDG criteria) to the poverty stricken people in sub-Saharan Africa, than to the rest of white or Asian Australia.

Perhaps the Melanesian countries should demand that Australia also say “sorry” to them, for the atrocities committed against the Kanak labourers a century ago. Acknowledging those past brutalities (and you might first need a few TV documentaries to drive that message home to the unaware Australian public) might encourage Australia to treat Pacific Island countries fairly and with human decency in the PACER Plus negotiations.

If PACER Plus delivers on the unskilled labour market benefits that PIC leaders want, and quickly, then Australian and NZ politicians might also have fewer nightmares about being outmanoeuvred by China in the Pacific, plus enjoy a lot of benefits as well.

Dr Wadan Narsey is a Fiji economist, academic, former parliamentarian and independent media commentator. He is a regular columnist on Pacific Scoop and Pacific Media Centre Online.

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