Showing posts with label Melanesian Spearhead Group. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Melanesian Spearhead Group. Show all posts

Monday, January 13, 2014

X-Post: Grubsheet - A Melanesian Minefield

Source: Grubsheet

MSG Foreign Ministers with Ratu Inoke Kubuabola (front in orange shirt)
MSG Foreign Ministers with Ratu Inoke Kubuabola (front in orange shirt)

Foreign Ministers of the Melanesian Spearhead Group are set to tip-toe through a diplomatic minefield with news that a MSG delegation – led by Fiji’s Ratu Inoke Kubuabola – will make its long-awaited visit to the Indonesian province of West Papua this week.
The mission is fraught with potential difficulty and will require all the diplomatic skills the Ministers can muster as they walk a tightrope between the intense sensitivity of their Indonesian hosts and the equally intense expectations of their Melanesian brothers and sisters in West Papua.
Ratu Inoke is famed for his own political dexterity – a man who has been able to weather successive upheavals in Fijian politics and still be at the centre of decision-making. So arguably no one is better placed to lead this delegation to West Papua and bring it back without fracturing relationships on either side. The stakes are high and the pitfalls perilous.  It will be one of the toughest assignments Ratu Inoke has ever undertaken, arguably more so than his patient to-ing and fro-ing with the recalcitrant Australians and New Zealanders on behalf of the Bainimarama Government.  Yet, once again, Fiji has a unique opportunity to demonstrate leadership, judgment and wisdom, not only in our own foreign policy but on behalf of all Melanesians, including the people of West Papua. So our best wishes go with him as he tackles one of the biggest challenges of his diplomatic career.

Put simply, the indigenous people of West Papua regard themselves – quite rightly – as being as Melanesian as their kin across the border in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Fiji – the existing members of the MSG. Yet they now find themselves outnumbered in their own country by the Javanese and other Indonesian ethnic groups that have flooded into West Papua since what was then a Dutch colony was invaded and annexed by Indonesia in 1961. That invasion took place in highly controversial circumstances and amid an international outcry. It was eventually agreed that the United Nations oversee a plebiscite of the people of West Papua to finally decide their future. They were given two choices – to remain part of Indonesia or to become an independent nation. But while this vote was officially described as “An Act of Free Choice”, it was conducted not by a poll of the entire population but of about 1,000 men selected by the Indonesian military.

This group – described at the time as a consensus of elders – was allegedly coerced into unanimously voting to remain part of Indonesia. And ever since, the result has been rejected by Papuan nationalists, who established what they called the Free Papua Movement (OPM). The OPM ran a campaign of guerrilla warfare against the Indonesian administration over the years in which many thousands of people were killed on both sides. And while this has since tapered off, the independence movement has continued, mainly through peaceful protest and a campaign of international lobbying.

The main pro-independence group now is the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation ( WPNCL) – an umbrella group of several bodies – with a leadership largely outside the country – in Vanuatu, the United States and Europe. This group has now made a formal application to join the MSG and in doing so, has given the regional grouping a massive headache. It can’t really say no altogether because it has already admitted the FLNKS, which is not a Melanesian country but the pro-independence movement in New Caledonia, once a French territory and still part of the French Republic, though with a degree of internal autonomy as a “Special Collectivity” of France. The people of New Caledonia are due to be given a vote on full independence from France sometime between now and 2018. But the people of West Papua are in a completely different situation.

Graham Davis

" The tenor of these meetings will be crucial. Neither side wants a showdown over West Papua and both will be working hard to ensure a successful outcome. But it is a challenging prospect indeed to expect the Indonesians to accept West Papua joining the MSG, except as part of the Indonesian Republic, which currently has observer status at the MSG. "
Indonesia regards West Papua as one of its provinces and an integral part of the nation, as integral as Java, Sumatra or anywhere else.  It says it will never countenance independence and fights the notion at every turn, regarding it as a threat to national sovereignty. Part of its sensitivity lies in the humiliating manner in which it was forced to surrender East Timor, which it invaded and took from the Portuguese in 1975, but lost in 1999 after a bloody guerrilla war and a similar United Nations vote, though one carried out properly. In the interim, Indonesia has evolved from a military dictatorship into a robust democracy. Yet the Indonesian military still sees itself as the ultimate guardian of the country’s territorial integrity and cracks down hard on any expression of dissidence or revolt over its hold on West Papua.

For Fiji and the other MSG countries, negotiating a way through this minefield is naturally going to be extremely challenging. Philosophically, they cannot exclude a substantial Melanesian population whose representatives want to join the organisation. But neither can they – nor do they want to -upset or damage the relationship of the MSG countries with Indonesia. That relationship ranges from excellent – in the case of Fiji – to somewhat strained, in the case of Vanuatu, which has close ties to the West Papuan leaders in exile, provides them with a base and has strongly argued their case in global forums such as the United Nations. So in essence, the door has to be kept open to both the Indonesian leadership in Jakarta and the leaders of the West Papuan independence movement, a considerable challenge that now rests at the feet of the MSG Foreign Ministers and Ratu Inoke Kubuabola in particular.

At the MSG summit meeting in Noumea last June, the MSG leaders decided to send a delegation led by Ratu Inoke to Indonesia for talks on the membership application by the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation. It’s taken more than six months of delicate negotiations to organise but finally, Jakarta issued a formal invitation for the mission to proceed. On Tuesday (Jan 11th), Ratu Inoke will begin sitting down in the Indonesian capital flanked by the Foreign Ministers of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, a Special Envoy from Vanuatu and a senior representative of the FLNKS, which is the current chair of the MSG. In a clear sign of how seriously the Indonesians are taking the mission, across the table from them will be the senior leadership – including the President of the Republic, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his Foreign Minister, Marty Natalegawa.

The tenor of these meetings will be crucial. Neither side wants a showdown over West Papua and both will be working hard to ensure a successful outcome. But it is a challenging prospect indeed to expect the Indonesians to accept West Papua joining the MSG, except as part of the Indonesian Republic, which currently has observer status at the MSG. Can a formula be hammered out for the Province to join as a full member, just as the Kanaks of New Caledonia have full membership but France doesn’t? Would the pro-independence exiles accept this? Can they be brought into the tent to both the satisfaction of Indonesia, themselves and the MSG? These are all imponderables at the present time yet must logically be in the mix if a successful outcome is to be achieved.

After these talks will come the most sensitive part of the visit, when Ratu Inoke and the other Foreign Ministers travel from Jakarta to West Papua itself. Their official program for the two day visit hasn’t been officially released. Yet there’s no doubt that the pro-independence lobby sees the visit as a golden opportunity to press its case. A senior West Papuan activist, Octovianus Mote, was recently in Fiji lobbying on behalf of the WPNCL. He said the Movement was “thrilled” that the MSG Foreign Ministers would be coming to the Province and pledged that thousands of Melanesians would turn out to line the road from the airport to welcome them. Just how the Indonesian security forces will respond remains to be seen. But the record shows that they give short shrift to any public manifestation of Melanesian nationalism and especially the raising of the Free West Papuan flag. Octovianus Mote said this would definitely happen at some stage during the visit.  The MSG Foreign Ministers will be dearly hoping for restraint on both sides.

In his official announcement of the visit, Ratu Inoke appeared to play down the prospects of any dramatic outcome, stressing cooperation with the Indonesian Government and ruling out any prospect of supporting independence for the Province.“We are happy to undertake this important visit at the invitation of the Indonesian Government to be able to assess the application by WPNCL to become a member of the MSG to enable us to present a recommendation to our Leaders,” Ratu Inoke said. “ (But) we fully respect Indonesia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and we further recognise that West Papua is an integral part of Indonesia. The visit will provide the opportunity to learn firsthand about the situation in West Papua and understand the aspirations of our fellow Melanesian brothers and sisters in Papua with regards to their representation by WPNCL to become a member of the MSG.”

So a softly, softly, vaka malua, approach to this most sensitive of issues – the Foreign Minister and his MSG colleagues desperately hoping their visit passes off without incident and that the whole conundrum can eventually be resolved through patient negotiation and dialogue. From where Fiji sits, it is certainly not the time for rash provocations on the part of the separatist movement, nor a heavy handed, repressive response on the part of the Indonesian security forces. The leitmotif of Fiji’s foreign policy under the Bainimarama Government is to be “friends to all” and that includes both Indonesia and our Melanesian neighbours. Ratu Inoke will certainly be approaching his mission in that spirit and the whole nation will be hoping that he can succeed.

Friday, June 21, 2013

X-Post: PACNEWS - 19th MSG Leader's Summit Communique 2013

By Online Editor
6:15 pm GMT+12, 21/06/2013, New Caledonia
  1. The 19th MSG Leaders’ Summit was held in Noumea, New Caledonia from 19-21 June 2013. The Official Opening of the Summit was held on 19 June 2013 at the Tjibaou Cultural Centre and included a traditional welcome ceremony by the Wetr Cultural Group from Lifou of the Loyalty Islands Province. The Leaders then convened their Retreat at the Escapade Resort on 20 June, 2013 followed by the Plenary at the Conference Room of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) in the morning of 21 June, 2013. The closing ceremony was held at the Tjibaou Cultural Centre in the afternoon.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Fiji and PNG Defense Cooperation.

In the wake of a successful Fiji business delegation and State visit to Papua New Guinea (PNG), a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is being drawn up, detailing the terms of a proposed Defense cooperation between Fiji and PNG.

The Fiji Military, with many years of operational experience in peacekeeping missions under the United Nations (UN) banner, are earmarked to train PNG army officers. Fiji's Permanent Secretary of Defence, Jale Fotofili also outlined the possibility of a joint Fiji/PNG operation in peacekeeping missions, in an interview with FBC TV news (video posted below).

Friday, April 19, 2013

X-Post: Grubsheet - The Pacific Axis Shifts.

Source: Grubsheet

An outstanding success: Voreqe Bainimarama arrives in Port Moresby (Photo:ABC)
An outstanding success: Voreqe Bainimarama arrives in Port Moresby (Photo:ABC)

There’s elation in Fijian Government circles over the highly successful outcome of this week’s visit to Papua New Guinea by the Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, at the head of the biggest Fijian trade and investment mission ever to visit another country. The original aims of the visit were ambitious enough – to lay more of the foundation for the creation of a single, integrated market for the countries of the Melanesian Spearhead Group. Yet the results exceeded even the most ambitious expectations of the PM, his Foreign Minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, and the trade delegation of 65 Fijian business leaders from 47 companies. 

Commodore Bainimarama described himself as being “on a high”. And the normally ultra-calm and measured Permanent Secretary for Trade and Industry, Shaheen Ali, said he was “overwhelmed” by the “marvelous” outcome of the visit. Within hours, some of the Fijian companies were already receiving orders and entering into agreements with PNG suppliers and distributors. And by day two of the mission, two more Fijian businesses had registered as foreign investors in PNG. This is in addition to the F$180-million investment by Fiji’s national superannuation fund, the FNPF, in Bemobile – a major telecommunications provider in PNG and Solomon Islands – and the management takeover of its operations by Vodafone Fiji.

The Fijian Government sees itself as equal partners with PNG in ultimately leading the other MSG countries into an economic union to improve the lives of every Melanesian. There’s a notable absence of rivalry of the sort we’ve witnessed over the years in Europe, where Germany, France and Britain have consistently maneuvered for advantage in the European Union. As Fiji sees it, Papua New Guinea has the biggest market – seven million people compared to around 900,000 here – plus the massive wealth that flows from its minerals and energy sectors. And Fiji has an established manufacturing base, a skilled and educated workforce and is positioned at the crossroads of the Pacific. 

In other words, their assets are complimentary. Each country has its particular challenges – Papua New Guinea with corruption and lawlessness and Fiji still grappling with finally putting to rest the divisions that have hampered its development since Independence. Yet there’s a strong feeling on both sides that working in tandem in a joint leadership role is the best way to improve the lives of their own citizens and their Melanesian brothers and sisters in the smaller MSG states. 

There’s no doubt that Melanesian solidarity generally was a big beneficiary of this visit. As Commodore Bainimarama put it, PNG -Fiji ties go way beyond the mutual respect and cooperation that is the traditional benchmark of diplomacy. The peoples of both countries genuinely like each other, enjoy each other’s company and share a vision of a stronger Melanesia building a common economic and political future for all its citizens. And of course, both Governments bear significant grudges against the most dominant power in the region, Australia, which they regard as generally arrogant, overbearing and indifferent to Melanesian sensibilities. The same applies to New Zealand, albeit to a lesser extent.

As Grubsheet has written before, Australia’s mishandling of its Pacific neighbours – and especially Fiji – is a mistake of historical proportions. Its failure to fully engage with them, let alone comprehend their challenges, and its propensity to prescribe and even hector, has driven influential Pacific countries like Fiji and PNG further into each other’s arms and the arms of others outside the region. The Australian trade union heavies and their stooge of a Prime Minister who currently determine Pacific policy – and the foreign affairs establishment which implements it – seem to have little concept of Melanesian sensitivities and protocols. 

It’s well known in Suva than even the mention of Australia can trigger a surge of anger in Prime Minister Bainimarama, who feels sorely aggrieved that Canberra chose not to even  sit down with him, let alone try and comprehend his reforms. During this visit, the PM kept his counsel, adhering to the diplomatic convention of not criticising another country on someone else’s soil. In fact, it was the Papua New Guineans who made unflattering public comments about Australia. PNG’s Trade Minister, Richard Maru, accused Canberra of using his country as a “dumping ground” for its goods and said it wasn’t in Australia’s interests for the Melanesian countries to become self sufficient in anything. If that was what was being said publicly, then we can be sure that the language behind the scenes would have been a lot more colourful. The shared grievances of both governments about Australia would have been fully aired.

Certainly, there was general astonishment about the way in which this visit appeared to have been downplayed by Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC, which also has a significant presence in PNG. Aside from one story that correctly cited a series of “historic” agreements, the rest of the visit was generally ignored. Indeed on the first day, Radio Australia’s current affairs program, Pacific Beat, chose to lead with an item criticising Fiji’s constitutional process rather than give weight to the region’s two biggest and most influential island countries forging closer ties. It merely reinforced the notion in Fijian minds of the ABC’s chronic bias against the Bainimarama Government and Radio Australia as a lapdog of Canberra’s foreign policy. By any normal journalistic standard, this was a big Pacific story of significant interest to the populations of PNG and Fiji and, to a lesser extent, those of Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and the Kanaks of New Caledonia, who make up the rest of the MSG. It was buried. 

Is Australia sensitive about the fact that its so-called smart sanctions against Fiji haven’t turned out to be smart at all? You bet. American diplomats report that far from modifying their policies in the face of defeat, the Australians have stepped up their efforts internationally to isolate Fiji. Was Commodore Bainimarama’s visit a collective two-finger salute to Australia? Well, maybe just a little. Yet the overriding sentiment in official circles in Suva nowadays is that Australian attitudes are irrelevant. In any event, Blind Freddy can see that Julia Gillard’s Government is toast -with a 29 per cent primary vote in the most recent opinion poll – and that Australian policy towards Fiji is bound to be more realistic, if not more favourable, when the Coalition’s Tony Abbott storms into power in the Australian election in September. A full year out from the promised Fijian poll, Abbott and his likely foreign minister, Julie Bishop, will have ample time to end Labor’s vendetta and rebuild the relationship. 

There were many highpoints of this visit, not least the Bemobile signing -Fiji’s biggest foreign investment on behalf of all Fijians through the FNPF in one of the most dynamic sectors of the global economy- telecommunications. The Government’s critics continually harp on about the FNPF putting the retirement savings of ordinary Fijians at risk. Yet with Vodafone Fiji running Bemobile, the potential to grow that investment seems rock solid. In Fiji, there are more mobile phones than people – a penetration rate of 105 per cent. In Papua New Guinea, the penetration rate is 35 per cent. That’s a lot of potential customers and a lot of mobile phones.

Among other highlights of the visit:

  • ·      The announcement that citizens of both countries will no longer require visas to visit each other. This is on top of existing plans to achieve a seamless flow of labour between the MSG countries.

  •  ·      The provision for retired Fijian civil servants – who are obliged to vacate their jobs at 55 – to work in Papua New Guinea to boost the local skills base.

  •  ·      The plan for a permanent Fiji Trade Mission in Port Moresby and the continuation of the joint effort to break down the remaining impediments to trade and investment, with a view to developing a common market.

  • Most important of all – at least in the shorter term – is the financial support Papua New Guinea has offered Fiji to conduct its election in September 2014 and introduce the first genuine parliamentary democracy in the country’s history of one-person, one vote, one value.

According to officials travelling with Commodore Bainimarama, the PM couldn’t believe his ears when the amount of the PNG contribution was announced out of the blue by his opposite number, Peter O’Neill. “What did he say?”, he asked. At first, the Ministry of Information flashed a media release that the amount was 15-million Kina. But it soon became clear that the fifteen was actually FIFTY. A sense of astonishment, delight and gratitude swept the Fijian delegation and text messages lit up in the corridors of power in Suva. More than 40-million Fijian dollars!  By any standards and especially in the Pacific, it is an astonishingly generous amount. 

This contribution has sealed the Fiji-PNG relationship and laid to rest the concerns of some that PNG was more intent on cementing its own interests during this visit than pursuing a genuinely equal partnership. It means that Fiji no longer requires other outside assistance to finance the poll, and especially from those countries or groups of countries like the European Union, which appear more interested in using the money as political leverage than in assisting Fijians to determine their own future. Instead of having election observers from the EU – as happened controversially in 2006 – the Prime Minister wants election observers from PNG and the other MSG countries. He accused the EU observers of endorsing a “flawed” election in 2006 and said Fiji wanted an observer group with “integrity”. This will not be music to the ears of Fiji’s voluble EU Ambassador, Andrew Jacobs, who before the PNG announcement, was telling people that Fiji would need to  approach the EU for assistance and accept certain conditions that are now decidedly moot.

With Commodore Bainimarama having now travelled across the world to New York to chair a meeting of the G77 Plus China and the rest of the Fijian delegation making its way home, it’s clear that this visit has been an outstanding success. History may also judge it as the week that Fiji and PNG cemented their common future and came to realise more fully the potential they have – working together – to establish the MSG as the pre-eminent regional grouping and its integration as the best way to improve the lives of all Melanesians. One thing is certain. The axis of power in the Pacific is gradually shifting, whether Australia, NZ and their Polynesian client states such as Samoa like it or not.  

Club Em Designs

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

MSG 25th Jubilee Celebrations in Fiji.

Somare proposes Fiji to lead MSG humanitarian and response force
By Online Editor 4:12 pm GMT+12, 19/03/2013, Fiji

Fiji has been urged to lead an MSG-led regional humanitarian and response force, to be activated in times of natural disaster. The force is more needed now, given that Melanesian Spearhead (MSG) countries are situated in an area prone to natural disaster, observed Sir Michael Somare, the former Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea. He was in Suva this week to launch the Silver Jubilee celebrations of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), which is being celebrated in all the member countries capitals.

Speaking at the launch Monday, Sir Michael said given success of regional co-operative arrangement under the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) and the Bougainville regional Peacekeeping force and Kumul force deployment to Vanuatu, the idea is ‘so far-fetched.’ “This must be seriously considered by our governments. If the wider Forum region is still harbouring some reservation to this proposal then MSG can take a lead.

I note the MSG is progressing this matter through the proposed Humanitarian and Emergency Response Force, said Sir Michael. The MSG countries – Fiji, FLNKS of New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu – are situated in an area prone to natural disasters. “Timely response by individual countries is often lacking due to capacity constraints.

This is further compounded by resource limitations thus exacting unnecessary suffering on our peoples. “More often than not, the devastation itself renders individual governments responses inadequate, said the PNG leader. The MSG 25th Jubilee celebrations have the theme “Celebrating Melanesian Solidarity and Growth.


(Posted below) Video of FBC TV news segment covering the summary of Sir Michael Somare's speech at the MSG celebrations, including brief excerpts from the Solomon Islands High Commissioner to Fiji, Patterson Oti and Fiji's former Prime Minister, Sitiveni Rabuka.

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

Sunday, January 27, 2013

X-Post: Island Business - Reconfiguring Regionalism in the Pacific

by Nic Maclellan

Last month, Sir Mekere Morauta launched a new website, calling for public submissions into his review of the Pacific Plan. Over the next eight months, the former Papua New Guinea Prime Minister will lead a team around the region to look at the plan, which is supposed to set priorities for key regional institutions—the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS), the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the other members of the Council of Regional Organisations of the Pacific (CROP).

According to the Forum’s Secretary-General Tuiloma Neroni Slade, the review will be “an ambitious scope of work that will involve leaders, officials, and a range of non-state actors from across the region in assessing past performance and mapping out a path ahead.” As a framework for regional co-ordination, the Pacific Plan grew out of a 2004 Forum Eminent Persons Group, which called for a new vision for Pacific regionalism.

However, the resulting policy framework—the 2005 Pacific Plan—was one of the least visionary documents to appear in recent years. It was widely criticised for down-playing issues of culture and gender, and its recommendations often reflected the existing agenda of regional intergovernmental bodies. Morauta’s review comes at a time when there is widespread debate about regional institutions as Pacific governments and communities face a complex range of international challenges.

The regional agenda has broadened, with significant pressures on the region’s institutional architecture. Looking to the year ahead, there are a number of challenges: elections in key states; debates over Fiji’s transition to parliamentary elections in 2014; the challenge of integrating the remaining Pacific territories into Forum activities; and deadlines to review the Millennium Development Goals and regional frameworks on climate, trade and other issues. But just as the agenda gets more complex, there is widespread questioning about whose agenda is driving the regional institutions. How do the Forum Secretariat and other CROP agencies relate to national priorities across a diverse region? Do Australia and New Zealand, as paymasters for the Forum, carry disproportionate influence in its operations? How can churches, women’s groups, customary leaders and young people carry their voice into the regional structures?

Reviewing the Forum 

In recent years, there has been quiet—and not so quiet—criticism of the Forum Secretariat, suggesting that it is not fully engaging with the needs of member states. A comprehensive review of the Forum Secretariat last year by Peter Winder of New Zealand;Tessie Lambourne of Kiribati; and Kolone Vaai of Samoa highlighted competition between CROP member agencies and made a series of recommendations on reforming the Secretariat’s structure, leadership and priorities.

Last August in Rarotonga, Forum leaders deferred action on the Forum Secretariat’s review, agreeing that its recommendations be rolled into the wider review of the Pacific Plan. But ongoing concerns over the Forum Secretariat mean that sub-regional networks are taking on new energy and not only in the larger Pacific countries united in the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG). For many years, the Small Islands States have caucused before Forum leaders meetings and issued communiques on their particular concerns.

In the Northern Pacific, the Micronesian Chief Executives meetings are slowly expanding, with talk of a new secretariat. Last year also saw the first meeting of the Polynesian Leaders Group (PLG). The idea of a Polynesian bloc within the Forum has been floating around for decades—as France’s Secretary of State for the Pacific in 1986-1988, Gaston Flosse, tried to create a Polynesia sub-group in an attempt to blunt the MSG’s solidarity work with the FLNKS independence movement in New Caledonia.

Now, Samoa has taken the lead, driven in part by Samoan PM Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi’s very public disdain for the Bainimarama regime in Fiji. The Polynesian nations are also seeking to develop common fisheries policies, with the New Zealand-supported Te Vaka Moana initiative, at a time when the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) nations and Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) are perceived to be driving regional policy. At the PLG meeting in Apia last year, there were also invitees from Hawai’i, Rapanui and Aotearoa—the far-flung inhabitants of the Polynesian triangle. Will indigenous peoples living with constrained sovereignty form a stronger part of this new regional network?

PACP and regional trade 

Over the next year, long-running debates over regional trade policy will reach a new tempo. In a major change last November, leaders of the Pacific members of the African, Caribbean and Pacific group (PACP) agreed that Fiji should re-join the fold. All countries of the PACP Group will now participate in all meetings relating to PACP. In a significant shift, Papua New Guinea has offered to host the secretariat of the PACP Leaders meeting—until now, administrative and support services for the PACP have been provided by the Forum Secretariat.

After a battle with the Forum Secretariat over trade policy, the MSG Secretariat in Port Vila already hosts the Office of the Chief Trade Advisor (OCTA). Trade policy has led to extensive critiques of the Forum in recent years, amid perceptions of excessive Australian influence in Suva (not helped when the Forum’s Director of Economic Governance Roman Grynberg was replaced by AusAID’s former trade adviser Chakriya Bowman between 2007 and 2011). Just as OCTA was established to provide independent advice and support in the negotiations of PACER Plus negotiations with Australia and New Zealand, the new PACP Secretariat will eventually provide an alternative source of trade policy advice, especially for negotiations with the European Union (EU).

For years, the Forum has been discussing a comprehensive regional Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the EU. But the EPA is in trouble, more than five years after it was supposed to be finalised. Once again in 2013, the European Union looks unlikely to seriously address key Pacific concerns in the trade negotiations such as labour mobility and market access for fresh and frozen fish. Inter-islands trade through PICTA has been slow to get off the ground, but the PACER-Plus and EPA processes have largely failed to create innovative trade and development linkages.

The European Commission has a long way to go to engage SIDS leaders, according to Niue Premier Toke Talagi: “There is a degree of frustration on our part at the fact that this agreement has not been signed. There is also suspicion on our side that they may be trying too hard to get all that they want, and there is no degree of compromise in the arrangements we need to put in place.” The revitalisation of PACP in 2013 and new sub-regional initiatives are showing more promise. This year, the MSG Trade Agreement will take on a new life after Papua New Guinea agreed to reduce duties on almost all of its protected goods. PNG’s notoriously protectionist business community now recognise the need for more regional support to enhance the LNG boom with small but growing investment from Fiji.

New spaces to talk 

There are other signs of sub-regional networking. With the signing of an MOU between Fiji, PNG, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, the MSG Skills Movement Scheme is slowly getting off the ground at a time when Australia and New Zealand are focused on seasonal worker programmes. In the education sector, Fiji National University (FNU) and the University of the South Pacific (USP) are discussing extending their operations beyond existing Forum islands countries, to include Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste.

Fiji has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on development cooperation with Kiribati, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands, the Marshall Islands and Nauru. Through the Fiji Volunteer Service, the first 12 teachers headed off to the Marshall Islands last September.

Nick Maclellan

" [A]s the agenda gets more complex, there is widespread questioning about whose agenda is driving the regional institutions. How do the Forum Secretariat and other CROP agencies relate to national priorities across a diverse region? Do Australia and New Zealand, as paymasters for the Forum, carry disproportionate influence in its operations? [...]
But ongoing concerns over the Forum Secretariat mean that sub-regional networks are taking on new energy and not only in the larger Pacific countries united in the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG)[...]
Fiji has begun to step away from its historic ties to the Commonwealth and the ANZUS Alliance, and is engaging in more South-South diplomacy[...]
Fiji’s more active diplomacy is also echoed by other Pacific nations, which are also stepping outside old strategic frameworks set by the ANZUS allies [...] "
Former USP economist Dr Wadan Narsey has noted that Papua New Guinea and Fiji’s role in the region’s economic and political life is significant, telling Radio Australia: “The Forum Secretariat is very seriously in danger of being marginalised in the Pacific. I think to some extent when you look at the recent re-admission of Fiji to the Pacific-ACP negotiations, in a way that is a symptom of the fact that the Melanesian countries are not going to allow one of their own to be marginalised from regional and international trade negotiations.”

The Forum is deeply rooted in regional frameworks and has become a focal point for international engagement—highlighted by recent visits to the Forum leaders’ meetings from Ban Ki-Moon, Hillary Clinton, Juan Manuel Barroso and other international dignitaries. But just as islands leaders stepped out of the South Pacific Commission in 1971 to create a forum where they felt free to talk politics, Pacific islands leaders are again seeking spaces where they can address their concerns and visions, without the major powers setting the agenda.

To create a new venue for governments and civil society to meet outside the Forum, Fiji’s Voreqe Bainimarama initiated the “Engaging with the Pacific” meetings in 2010. This year, these meetings will evolve into a new Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF). The PIDF will extend debates about “green growth”, the Pacific Conference of Churches’ “Rethinking Oceania” proposals and work on alternative development indicators, such as “Alternative Indicators of Well-Being for Melanesia” (the 2012 pilot study produced by the Vanuatu National Statistics Office and other government and community representatives).

Over time however, it will be worth watching to see if the PIDF becomes the venue for inter-islands dialogue without Australia and New Zealand in the room (along with all the other official Forum observers like the World Bank, the ADB, the Commonwealth, and the United Nations etc). After the 2012 Rio+20 conference, there’s plenty of work to do this year on environment and development—especially as the Pacific will host the Third Global Conference on Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) in 2014.

Nauru’s President Sprent Arumogo Dabwido has said that “Rio infused new energy into making the islands a model for sustainable development by agreeing to convene the Third Global Conference on SIDS.” But the latest global climate negotiations in Doha have put a damper on hopes for urgent action on global warming. Before the Doha summit, President Dabwido noted: “It is revealing just how much our ambition to address this crisis has been downscaled in just three years. Copenhagen was the conference to save the world. Cancun was the conference to save the process. Durban, it seems, was the conference to save the rest for later.”

Fiji’s foreign affairs 

This year will be a major test for the Bainimarama regime as Forum member countries monitor its progress towards a new Constitution and free and fair elections in 2014. On the domestic front, Fiji faces severe problems, with the declining sugar sector, ongoing rural and urban poverty and the damaging effects of cyclones and flooding.

The Bainimarama regime is widely condemned for harassment of trade union leaders and restrictions on union rights. Relations with the independent commission to develop a new Fiji Constitution have been fraught. But on the international stage, the post-coup regime in Fiji has begun to transform the country’s foreign policy. In the last few years, Fiji has begun to step away from its historic ties to the Commonwealth and the ANZUS Alliance, and is engaging in more South-South diplomacy. The signs are everywhere.

In April 2011, Fiji joined the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and in recent years has established diplomatic relations with a range of key developing nations—from Indonesia, South Africa and Brazil, to Iran, Cuba, North Korea—and, of course, China. Passing through Beijing last year, Fiji’s foreign minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola stated: “We appreciate China’s position on South-South co-operation and its decision to provide funding to Fiji through bilateral mechanisms and not through the Pacific Islands Forum’s Cairns Compact. “This funding option is more effective and really addresses the real needs of the people.”

Not everyone is sure these changes will last. In a December 2012 essay in the journal Security Challenges, Fiji historian Brij Lal argues that “these are short-sighted and eventually counterproductive diplomatic games Fiji is playing with no serious expectation of any far-reaching benefits.” Lal, one of the co-authors of Fiji’s 1997 Constitution, says: “Perhaps all these new initiatives will be allowed quietly to relapse once Fiji returns to parliamentary democracy,and once no benefits are seen to derive from them.” However, there is evidence that Fiji’s role in the Group of Asia and Pacific Small Islands Developing States at the United Nations is coming up with results.

Last September, Fiji was nominated by the UN’s Asia-Pacific group to chair the “Group of 77 and China” for the duration of 2013. This is the first time in nearly 50 years a Pacific country has led this developing country network (with 132 members, the G77 is the largest intergovernmental organisation of developing countries in the United Nations.) In part, Fiji’s diplomatic tensions with Canberra and Wellington are driving its links to China and the developing world. But they are also a reflection of emerging strategic shifts on a global scale, at a time when China, India, Korea and other countries are transforming global economics and politics.

New friends 

Fiji’s more active diplomacy is also echoed by other Pacific nations, which are also stepping outside old strategic frameworks set by the ANZUS allies. Seeking to link Pacific states with the dynamism of Asia, many Forum member countries are looking north (indeed, last October, the Gillard government released the “Australia in the Asian Century” White Paper, a road map showing “how Australia can be a winner in the Asian century”.)

At the 2012 Cooks’ Forum, Premier Talagi of Niue told the Chinese news agency Xinhua: “From Niue’s perspective, we’re very happy that China’s in the Pacific. I don’t believe that China’s incursions into the Pacific should be seen as a negative thing. I see it as a very positive thing and I have also heard US President Obama say the same thing.” As we move into 2013, new leaders in Beijing and Tokyo will review their policies towards the region (though the conservative Shinzo Abe government in Japan, elected in December 2012, will likely turn back the clock on nuclear and fisheries policies).

The United States too is turning to the Asia-Pacific region, with the Obama administration’s Pacific Pivot, including the Forum Islands countries. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won plaudits for her appearance at the 2012 Forum leaders meeting (although she will leave the post in 2013, with Senator John Kerry the front runner as her replacement). Beyond the obvious delight of Forum islands leaders that the United States is paying attention again, there are still a number of issues where there are fundamental policy differences with Washington, on climate change, decolonisation, maritime boundaries and the renewal of a key tuna deal with the islands.

The Obama administration has yet to persuade the US Congress to increase compensation for the health and environmental impacts of 67 atomic and hydrogen bombs tested at Bikini and Enewetak atolls in the Marshall Islands—an issue that will be high on the agenda when Majuro hosts the Forum leaders’ meeting later this year.

Integrating the territories 

Since its founding in 1971, Forum membership has been limited to Australia, New Zealand and the independent islands nations. In contrast, other CROP agencies like SPREP and SPC include all the countries and territories as well as colonial powers like France and the United States. In the original 2005 Pacific Plan, the status of the non-self-governing territories was largely ignored, with action plans relegated to the footnotes.

This silence on decolonisation is belied by the steady integration of the remaining French and US Pacific colonies into Forum activities. After the 1998 Noumea Accord, New Caledonia and then French Polynesia gained observer status at the Forum. Both were upgraded to associate members at the 2006 meeting in Apia, where Wallis and Futuna was also introduced as an observer. In Auckland in 2011, the Forum also gave approval for the US dependencies—the territories of Guam and American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the North Marianas—to obtain observer status. They attended the Forum meeting for the first time in Rarotonga last year. The names are different—associate member, special observer, observer—but fundamentally the US and French dependencies are all in the room (apart from the annual leaders retreat).

This trend will continue in the coming year, but the renewed engagement across colonial boundaries opens new debates about the criteria for full membership of the Forum. As the team led by PNG’s Morauta conducts its review of the Pacific Plan over next year, the long-term status of the territories remains a difficult issue.

Last year, Australia’s Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Islands Affairs Richard Marles told ISLANDS BUSINESS that Australia now supported New Caledonia becoming a full member of the Pacific Islands Forum, even before the French colony makes a final decision on its political future after 2014. Marles said: “We would support New Caledonia’s full membership of the Forum now, in terms of Australia’s position.

But in saying that, we acknowledge that we’re just one member and for New Caledonia to become a full member of the Forum, it may need to win the support of the majority of Forum members. “My observation is that they’re a fair way off doing that at the moment…We see that New Caledonia is an important member of the Pacific family and that full membership of the Forum is supported by all political elements in New Caledonia, as it is supported by France itself.”

For many people, it’s timely that the US and French territories are now closer to the Forum, which remains the key inter-governmental organisation concerned with political and security issues in the region. But as barriers to participation at Forum events are lowered, does this mean that the region still supports the call for self-determination amongst indigenous communities in Guam, New Caledonia, French Polynesia and beyond? Or will improving regional ties with France and the United States re-affirm the colonial status quo?

A year for the French Pacific

The call for self-determination and independence will again be highlighted this year if Oscar Temaru, the current President of French Polynesia, is re-elected in the March 2013 elections. The MSG will also hold its annual leaders meeting in New Caledonia in mid-2013, with the FLNKS taking up the rotating chair of the Melanesian bloc at a crucial time (elections for New Caledonia’s Provincial Assemblies and Congress in 2014 will determine the balance of forces for any subsequent decision on the territory’s future political status, scheduled between 2014-2018).

Last August, at the same time Clinton was attending the Forum meeting in Rarotonga, Fiji’s Foreign Kubuabola was in Tehran, attending the 16th summit of the NAM. Recognising Fiji’s role on the UN Special Committee for Decolonisation, the summit communique stated: “The Heads of State or Government affirmed the inalienable right of the people of French Polynesia—Maohi Nui to self-determination in accordance with Chapter XI of the Charter of the United Nations and the UN General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV).”

A month after the Rarotonga Forum, the leaders of Samoa, Solomon Islands, Fiji and Vanuatu lined up at the UN General Assembly to publicly support French Polynesia’s right to self-determination, explicitly called for action on decolonisation. As Samoa celebrated its 50th anniversary of independence from New Zealand, Samoa’s Tuilaepa told the UN General Assembly: “Half a century later, there still remain territories today even in our Pacific region where people have not been able to exercise their right of self-determination. “In the case of French Polynesia, we encourage the metropolitan power and the territory’s leadership together with the support of the United Nations to find an amicable way to exercise the right of the people of the territory to determine their future.”

French Polynesia’s President Temaru will continue to seek support from Pacific states for French Polynesia’s bid for re-inscription at the United Nations, even though the August 2012 meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum re-affirmed the Australian and New Zealand position, calling for further dialogue between Paris and Papeete. Given the Forum’s policy, the MSG will play an increasing role on this issue. The MSG sent a mission to New Caledonia in July 2012 to monitor the progress of the implementation of the Noumea Accord, and subsequently establish an FLNKS Unit within the MSG Secretariat, to act on initiatives that in the past were undertaken by the Forum Secretariat.

The commemoration of the MSG’s 25th anniversary, to be held in New Caledonia in June, symbolises the links across colonial boundaries. The issue of nationalism and statehood across Melanesia will soon be bumped up the regional agenda by a coincidence of events. After Congressional elections in 2014, New Caledonia is scheduled to hold a referendum on its political status between 2014-2018.

At the same time Bougainville is coming to the end of its 10-year autonomy transition under an autonomous government. As well as New Caledonia, Fiji and Indonesia are scheduled to hold elections in 2014—with both countries vital for the future of Melanesian stability. By 2015, countries must decide whether to sign on to a global climate treaty, and the development agenda to replace the Millennium Development Goals. This year is a time for reflection and review – and after that, there’s a lot to do.

Source: Islands Business

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.

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