Showing posts with label Trans-Tasman bullying in South Pacific. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Trans-Tasman bullying in South Pacific. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Australia's Familarity With Spying, Breeds Contempt Of Its Neighbors. (Updated)

As if Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) had enough regional enmity to deal with, subsequent to the Indonesia spying fiasco; Australia has managed to infuriate its relations with East Timor (Timor Leste) stemming from the CMATS negotiations surrounding maritime claims to the resource rich area of the Timor Sea. The Australian treatment of East Timor has much similarities to the unbridled exploitation of the past.

Diego Rivera - Mural of exploitation of Mexico by Spanish conquistadors, Palacio Nacional, Mexico City (1929-1945)
Australia's involvement in the 5 Eyes network has been not without controversy, but  the Australians appear to be stumbling from one diplomatic wrangle to another. Derived from issues much to their own making by the damning actions of Governments of the past, or the insensitive reactions of the present administration, to lame promises about the future. Australia is its own worst enemy.

Timor-Leste spy case: Brandis claims 'ridiculous', says ambassador

Timor-Leste ambassador Abel Guterres said attorney-general's explanation would be rejected by any 'fair-minded Australian'

Timor-Leste’s ambassador to Australia said his country was “deeply disappointed” Australian intelligence agencies had resorted to raids against the tiny nation’s lawyer and star witness in the international hearing of spying allegations and thought “fair-minded” Australians would reject the explanation given by the attorney-general, George Brandis, as ridiculous.

The Canberra lawyer Bernard Collaery, who is representing Timor-Leste in an international arbitration hearing in the Hague, has argued the raids were a deliberate effort by the Australian government to disrupt the proceedings, in which Timor-Leste alleges that in 2004 Australia improperly spied on the Timorese during negotiations on an oil and gas treaty worth billions of dollars in order to extract a commercial benefit.

Timor Leste’s prime minister, Xanana Gusmao, issued a statement on Wednesday calling on the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, to explain himself and guarantee the safety of the witness – a former senior Australian Security Intelligence Service (Asis) officer allegedly directly involved in the bugging of the Timorese cabinet office during the sensitive negotiations of the Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMAT) treaty.

"The actions taken by the Australian government are counterproductive and uncooperative," Mr Gusmao said. "Raiding the premises of a legal representative of Timor-Leste and taking such aggressive action against a key witness is unconscionable and unacceptable conduct. It is behaviour that is not worthy of a close friend and neighbour or of a great nation like Australia."
Brandis confirmed he issued the warrants for the Asis raids, but denied they were intended to interfere in the case and said the matter was an issue of national security.
Timor-Leste’s ambassador to Australia, Abel Guterres, rejected that assertion and said most Australians would also consider it ridiculous.
“Our country, Timor-Leste, which came out of 24 years of struggle and trauma, and the subsequent mayhem in 1999, do you think Timor-Leste could possibly pose a security threat to Australia,” he told Guardian Australia.
George Brandis
The explanation given by the attorney-general, George Brandis, was rejected by Timor-Leste's ambassador.( Photograph: Daniel Munoz/AAP)

“Thousands of people in Australia asked the government to help us [during the violence around the autonomy ballot in 1999] and Australia helped us … are we a security threat to Australia, I don’t think so, I think any fair-minded Australian would see this as ridiculous.”
Brandis rejected the suggestions of interference in the case, telling the Senate on Wednesday these were “wild and injudicious claims”. He said he issued the warrants on national security grounds but declined in his statement to disclose “the specific nature of the security matter concerned”.

“The search warrants were issued, on the advice and at the request of ASIO, to protect Australia’s national security,” Brandis said. He said he had instructed ASIO not to share any material gathered in Tuesday’s raids with Australia’s legal team in the Hague “under any circumstances”. Brandis said Australia respected the arbitral proceedings.

Guterres said Timor-Leste had acted “in good faith” throughout the long dispute over the negotiation, and both parties had agreed to try to resolve the issue through arbitration, “but now the whole thing has turned sour”.

He said Australia’s actions appeared designed to prevent the witness – who was due to fly to the Hague but has now had his passport cancelled – giving verbal evidence, and it was unclear what impact this would have on Timor-Leste’s case.

“It depends how the arbitration sees it if the witness cannot appear in person … but it doesn’t help our case,” he said. “Australia of all places, our ally, our neighbour, our trusted friend, is doing something that is not worthy of being an example.”

Guardian Australia understands Timor-Leste had intended to seek a form of witness protection for the former ASIS officer. The negotiation centred on boundaries to determine how the two countries would share oil and gas deposits under the Timor Sea, called the Greater Sunrise fields, worth tens of billions of dollars. Woodside Petroleum, which wanted to exploit the field, was working closely with the Howard government during the talks.
Timor-Leste alleges Australia inserted bugs in the cabinet room to listen to Timorese negotiators during the talks, under the guise of a refurbishment paid for by an Australian aid program.

Asked about the raids, Abbott said on Wednesday; "We don't interfere in cases, but we always act to ensure that our national security is being properly upheld. That's what we're doing.”
The Greens have called for a parliamentary inquiry into intelligence overreach after revelations that Australian intelligence attempted in 2009 to listen in to the mobile phone of the Indonesian president, his wife and their inner circle; and revelations this week that Australian intelligence offered to share metadata about ordinary citizens with foreign intelligence partners in 2008.
ABC news article, reported that the passport of the retired Intelligence officer cum whistle blower has been cancelled,  in an attempt to bully and throw a spanner in the works of East Timor's legal case against Australia in the Hague.
Podcast of ABC audio segment posted below.

WSWS web article provides additional coverage of the fiasco:

Australian government orders ASIO raids to suppress East Timor spying evidence

By Mike Head
4 December 2013
In a blatant attack on fundamental legal and democratic rights, the Abbott government yesterday ordered Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and Australian Federal Police (AFP) raids on the homes and offices of a lawyer and former intelligence agency whistleblower involved in an international legal challenge to Australia’s spying on the East Timor government during maritime border talks in 2004.

Bernard Collaery, the Canberra lawyer representing East Timor in its case against Australia in the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, said his office was raided just 24 hours after he left Australia to prepare the proceedings. ASIO officers spent hours searching his office, alarming two young female staff members. They seized a personal computer, USB stick, and sensitive files relating to the legal proceedings, including the affidavit of the crucial witness, a retired senior Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) official.

One of Collaery’s shocked assistants told journalists: “They were filming it, explained to me that they were from ASIO and there were AFP officers there too.” The women were shown a substantially blacked-out search warrant, and told they could not even keep a copy, supposedly for “security reasons.”

Collaery said the key witness was also detained and questioned, along with his wife, at their home. Apparently, the ex-ASIS officer was later released, but his passport was confiscated to prevent him from appearing in The Hague.

What, if any, legal grounds exist for these raids and other measures remain entirely unclear, and unspecified. Collaery commented: “I have no way of knowing the legal basis upon which these unprecedented actions [took place].”

Collaery said he had the evidence with him, and the raid would do “very little” to hinder East Timor’s case. “I can’t see what the government hopes to achieve by this aggressive action,” he said. “It can attempt to nullify the whistleblower’s evidence, but that evidence has flown—the evidence is here.”

Personally ordered by Attorney-General George Brandis, the raids are designed not only to block evidence being presented in The Hague of the illegal bugging of East Timor’s government. They send a wider threatening message to the media, the legal profession and potential whistleblowers not to release any further material exposing the intensive surveillance operations conducted by the Australian intelligence apparatus throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
These operations, which include listening posts in the Australian embassies in Dili and other Asia-Pacific capitals, are integral to the global US spying network—now exposed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden—and the Obama administration’s increasingly aggressive “pivot” to Asia to combat China.

Significantly, as the ASIO-AFP raids took place, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was preparing to fly to Indonesia in a bid to mend relations after Snowden’s revelations of US-backed Australian tapping of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s phone in 2009.
The raids followed further damning revelations, via leaked Snowden documents, of massive surveillance by the Australian intelligence agencies, directed against ordinary people in Australia, as well as people and governments across the region. (See: “Snowden document confirms US-backed mass surveillance in Australia”). They also came amid an intensifying campaign by the Abbott government and the media establishment to denounce the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Guardian Australia web site for publishing the incriminating documents.

Many unanswered questions exist about the raids. Last night, Brandis issued a terse statement declaring that he issued the search warrants to seize documents that “contained intelligence related to security matters.” Without offering any explanation, he simply branded as “wrong” allegations that his actions sought to impede East Timor’s litigation.
Collaery, however, said the raids sought to intimidate anyone else who wanted to come forward against the Australian government. He said the star witness was a former director of all technical operations at ASIS, who decided to blow the whistle because the “immoral and wrong” bugging of the East Timorese government served the interests of major oil and gas companies.

The illegal eavesdropping is now being raised by East Timor to challenge the outcome of the resulting pact, the Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) treaty.
In 2004, during negotiations for the treaty, the Australian government, then led by Prime Minister John Howard, economically and politically bullied the East Timorese government of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri in order to secure the lion’s share of the vast oil and gas reserves beneath the seabed. It also ordered ASIS operatives to plant listening devices in government and prime ministerial offices in Dili, enabling Canberra to snoop on the East Timorese delegates throughout the talks.

Ultimately, the Howard government forced East Timor to shelve any resolution of a maritime border in the area for 50 years, while dividing oil and gas revenues on a 50-50 basis. The largest project, Greater Sunrise, which lies entirely in East Timor’s waters according to international maritime law, will be exhausted within 50 years, starving the tiny impoverished country of critical revenues.
A major Australian company, Woodside Petroleum, which wanted to exploit the field, worked hand in glove with the Howard government and its foreign minister, Alexander Downer, who was in charge of ASIS. Collaery said the former ASIS official decided to expose the bugging upon learning that Downer, after quitting politics, became an adviser to Woodside.

Collaery said the details in the whistleblower’s affidavit had never been made public, until now. The director-general of ASIS and his deputy “instructed a team of ASIS technicians to travel to East Timor in an elaborate plan, using Australian aid programs relating to the renovation and construction of the cabinet offices in Dili, East Timor, to insert listening devices into the wall,” he said.
The Canberra lawyer accused the government and ASIO of “muzzling the oral evidence of the prime witness.” The spying, he commented, amounted to “insider trading,” for which “people would go to jail,” if it happened in the financial markets.
Members of the former Howard government, including Downer, may have direct personal interests in suppressing this information. However, the geo-political context, bound up with the services provided by Canberra and its spy agencies to Washington, indicates that much more is at stake.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott today vehemently defended the ASIO raids, claiming that the government does not interfere in court cases, “but we always act to ensure that our national security is being properly upheld—that’s what we’re doing.” Labor’s opposition leader Bill Shorten quickly closed ranks, lining up with the government to defeat a Senate motion asking Brandis to explain the raids.

By invading a lawyer’s office, and persecuting a former ASIS official, the authorities in Canberra are demonstrating that they will stop at nothing to protect the operations of the Australian intelligence services and their US patrons.
East Timor based NGO, La'o Hamutuk has been covering the controversial negotiations between the Australian and East-Timorese Governments and their website has a wealth of background history and information, surrounding the Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) Treaty.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

X-Post: Don’t Be A “Bully” - Message To Australia & New Zealand On Trade Talks.

Source: Samoa Observer

by Lealaiauloto Aigaletaule’ale’a Tauafiafi

Green party MP Jan Logie. CREDIT: REBECCA THOMSON/
Samoa’s Minister for Trade was talking tough leading in to a trade meeting last Friday between Pacific countries and New Zealand and Australia, in Auckland.

Added to that was Pacific islands spokesperson for the Green Party, Ms Jan Logie calling for Australia and New Zealand to put the interests of the whole Pacific ahead of their domestic interests – and not “bully” their smaller island neighbours.

The trade meeting was the third consultation and update of Non State Actors (N.S.A.) on the proposed Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (P.A.C.E.R.) Plus. It follows the second N.S.A. meeting that was held in Brisbane, Australia in April 2012.

The proposed P.A.C.E.R. Plus agreement aims for greater regional trade integration between Pacific countries and Australia and New Zealand. It is seen as the way to create jobs, drive private sector growth, raise standards of living and improve the Pacific region’s economic development so that it is self-sustaining.
But last week, Fonotoe Pierre Lauofo, Samoa’s Minister for Trade, and Deputy Prime Minister told media that Samoa is not happy with the way things are going. He wants current barriers on trade to come down more quickly.
Samoa Deputy P.M: Fonotoe Pierre Lauofo.

Specifically he is referring to one of the four priority areas in the proposed P.A.C.E.R. Plus agreement, that of ‘regional labour mobility’. The other three priority areas being: rules of origin, development assistance, and trade facilitation.
Fonotoe wants the current regional seasonal employment scheme (R.S.E.) between New Zealand and Samoa, to also include traineeships and working holiday programmes.
“That’s a bit of the contentious issue from the New Zealand perspective, and Australia, because Australia is also part of P.A.C.E.R. Plus. So those are the issues we are looking at resolving as soon as possible so that could better access the markets in New Zealand and Australia.”

While Ms Logie this week told the New Zealand Pacific, “P.A.C.E.R. Plus is supposed to be a development agreement rather than a free trade agreement but up until now no progress has been made on development assistance. Australia and New Zealand have been saying they’ll deal with funding separately. It’s hard to see how that’s in the best interest of the Pacific.”
She added that latest figures out of the Asian Development Bank “highlight again the need for additional development support for the Pacific to adapt to climate change. New Zealand shamefully took that money out of the existing aid budget. This track record doesn’t bode well for the P.A.C.E.R. Plus.”
“New Zealand has already made a significant investment in negotiating this agreement, we need to make sure that it’s not just another attempt to bully our smaller neighbours.”

Ms Logie’s comments hit at the heart of the matter in this third N.S.A. meeting. In last year’s N.S.A. meeting in Brisbane, there was a fall-out. And it pointed to the lack of funding assistance by Australia and New Zealand to get Pacific N.S.As to provide critical input.

A number of N.S.As leveled heavy criticism about the lack of meaningful discussions and participation by non government organisations. Only one non-government organization was in attendance at the 2012 meeting, Mr Adam Wolfenden, Campaigner for Pacific Network around the region on Globalisation (P.A.N.G.) told the Vanuatu Times back in April 2012.
“The lack of funding available for key groups and no discussion of substantive issues has resulted in a consultation that has lacked critical input,” said Mr Wolfenden.
The key issues that need to be resolved according to him are “adequate funding for effective participation and real discussion about the substantive issues at regional consultations as well as adequate funding and capacity for national consultations.” The concern amongst private sector organisations was the “inability of the diverse voices of non-state actors to be present”.

Added to Mr Wolfenden’s comments were those made by the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (A.F.T.I.N.E.T.). They commented that it is time for Australia to provide the money necessary for the Pacific to hear from N.G.Os. “Whilst we appreciate and welcome Australia’s provision of some funding for the N.S.A. dialogue, this consultation is an example of a job half-done,” Harvey Purse, Trade Justice Campaigner of A.F.T.I.N.E.T. told the Vanuatu Times.

“Australia has always acknowledged the constraints in the region including limited funding for consultations and the involvement of N.S.As. “However, the funding provided by Australia and New Zealand is inadequate. So we've now had a consultation that is not representative of the wide spectrum of views in the Pacific, and failed to include any critical voices. “It can hardly be seen as improving the lives of Pacific peoples when the non government sector, with their diverse expertise and views, have less representation at these key consultations than multi-national corporate interests such as big tobacco (B.A.T.), alcohol (Heineken) and finance (A.N.Z.).”

The Vanuatu report noted that Pacific Island business was well represented with the regional body the Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisations (P.I.P.S.O.), several business councils and Chambers of Commerce present. However, largely absent were small and medium enterprises mainly owned by Pacific islanders.

According to the draft agenda of the Auckland meeting this Friday, P.I.P.S.O. will present and discuss the views of their Membership with regard to the nature and depth of consultation desired during P.A.C.E.R. Plus negotiations. They will discuss best practice, and provide examples of ways to strengthen consultations and make them more effective.
The stated main objective of the 2013 meeting is about finding ways for better consultation between N.S.As and national governments in the P.A.C.E.R. Plus process. And to also look at their respective roles in implementing P.A.C.E.R. Plus when it comes into force.

Criticism from 2012 was seen as the litmus test for the 2013 meeting. Will there be more than one N.G.O. in attendance? How much funding was made available for Pacific N.S.A.s to attend? Have there been funding made available for national consultations leading up to these regional meetings?

On the bigger picture, what is P.A.C.E.R. Plus? Who said it is important to the Pacific, and why?
The answer is found at the highest level. In 2009, Pacific Trade Ministers from 13 Pacific countries agreed in Apia, Samoa to negotiate P.A.C.E.R. Plus because they saw the need for a much stronger regional trade integration with Pacific super powers Australia and New Zealand. They felt that by having a trade agreement such as P.A.C.E.R. Plus, it will give them a formalized framework that will benefit each Pacific country through the creation of jobs, drive private sector growth, raise standards of living and improve the region’s sustainable economic development.

Meantime for it to work for each country at different stages of economic development, the structure of P.A.C.E.R. Plus should be flexible enough to allow countries ready to move ahead with negotiations, to do so, while countries who are not, are given more time to prepare.
And to make sure that the voices of all countries are heard, that a true assessment of their different stages of development are accounted for, it is important that a wide and diverse voice from N.S.A.'s is heard.

The process therefore, promotes gradual regional integration in a way that supports the economic development of the 13 party members while taking into account their differences.
Even though the coverage and framework of P.A.C.E.R. Plus have yet to be agreed upon, the priority areas for negotiations have been identified.
In October 2009, in Apia, Samoa, Forum Trade Ministers agreed on the common priority issues:
  • Rules of Origin
  • Regional Labour Mobility (beyond Mode 4)
  • Development Assistance, focusing on physical infrastructure for trade, trade development and promotion; and
  • Trade Facilitation, including Sanitary and Phytosanitary (S.P.S.) Measures,
  • Technical Barriers to Trade (T.B.T.), Standards and Customs Procedures.

And in 2010, Forum Trade Ministers Meeting also noted ‘the fundamental importance of shipping, aviation, telecommunications and water infrastructure to increase trade in goods and services between Member Countries’, and agreed that these were priority negotiating issues for P.A.C.E.R. Plus.


According to Article 6 of the Cotonou Agreement, non-state actors include:
  • Civil society in all its diversity, according to national characteristics;
  • Economic and social partners, including trade union organisations and;
  • The private sector.
In practice, it means that participation is open to all kind of actors, such as community-based organisations, women's groups, human rights associations, nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), religious organizations, farmers' cooperatives, trade unions, universities and research institutes, the media and the private sector.
Also included in this definition are informal groups such as grassroots organizations, informal private sector associations, etc. The private sector, however, is considered only insofar as it is involved in non-profit activities (such as private sector associations, chambers of commerce, and the like).

Thursday, November 28, 2013

X-Post: Inside Story- Stopping The Cheques.

Nauru’s president Baron Waqa with prime minister Tony Abbott at this month’s CHOGM meeting in Colombo.
Robert Schmidt/ AFP

Source: Inside Story

STANDING on the podium in Warsaw this week, president Baron Waqa of Nauru wasn’t mincing his words. “Many of the countries most responsible for climate change are retreating from their moral responsibility and obligation to act,” he said. “Consequently, we are lacking the urgent ambition required to lower emissions in the short time we have to avert catastrophe.”

This year’s global climate negotiations haven’t gone well. The Alliance of Small Island States, or AOSIS, is angry that many developed nations are abandoning pledges to provide financial support for the most vulnerable islands affected by global warming. Speaking on behalf of this forty-three-member bloc, Waqa stressed the vital role of climate finance in responding to the climate emergency. “We are missing the all-embracing idea of human solidarity that underpins the concept of ‘loss and damage,’” he said, referring to the devastation to land, water supply, agriculture and infrastructure caused by delays in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the failure to fund the necessary adaptation.

Leading the retreat at Warsaw is the Australian government. In December last year, the Coalition’s shadow climate minister, Greg Hunt, said that an Abbott government would not give a “blank cheque” to cover loss and damage. Now, as federal environment minister (“climate” having been removed from the title), Hunt has refused to attend the Warsaw negotiations and is making good on his pledge to stop the cheques.
At this month’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka, the Abbott government ditched Australia’s pledge to contribute to the Green Climate Fund, an innovative new funding mechanism for dealing with the effects of climate change.

In their final communique, the CHOGM leaders “recognised the importance attached to both the operationalisation and the capitalisation of the Green Climate Fund.” But a footnote recorded that “Australia and Canada had reservations about the language of paragraphs 18, 19, 20 and 21 and indicated that they could not support a Green Capital [sic] Fund at this time.”
Hunt made clear in December last year that the Coalition wouldn’t support this multilateral body. “This is not a fund which we support. We have no control over where the money goes, no control over how it’s used, no control over how much we pay and this is something which we clearly, simply, categorically reject.” At the time, international observers were astounded by the chutzpah of this statement. Australia had played a central role in the creation of the fund, with AusAID’s deputy director-general, Ewen McDonald, appointed co-chair of the Fund’s board for its first year of operation. Australian officials have played a crucial role in determining the Fund’s mandate, operations and policies.

In Warsaw, Australian negotiators also disrupted talks on the “loss and damage” agenda, leading to a walkout by the “G77 plus China” delegates, the 132-member bloc currently chaired by Fiji. As noted climate researcher Saleemul Huq told the Guardian, “Discussions were going well in a spirit of cooperation, but at the end of the session on loss and damage Australia put everything agreed into brackets, so the whole debate went to waste.”
At a time of diplomatic turmoil with Indonesia, these attacks on climate finance, coupled with recent cuts in the aid program, will have long-term strategic implications for Australia’s relationship with Pacific island neighbours. Although Australia remains the major provider of aid, trade and military cooperation in the Pacific islands region, the days when it could use aid to call the shots are long gone. The old relationship is no longer the only game in town: in the same month that Canberra overturned Australia’s policy on climate finance, China announced US$1 billion in concessional loans for the Pacific islands.

Alongside China’s increasing diplomatic influence in the Pacific, a range of other players – from Cuba, Russia and Indonesia to unexpected actors like the United Arab Emirates – are complicating policy in the islands for the ANZUS allies. With larger countries like Papua New Guinea and Fiji taking more assertive regional and international roles, many Australians underestimate the rapidity of change in our region. The latest cuts in aid and climate finance can only accelerate that process.

SINCE Copenhagen in 2009, OECD nations have pledged funds for adaptation and mitigation initiatives in the developing world. Thirty billion dollars was committed for fast-start financing in 2010–13, and the agreed target for 2020 is an annual US$100 billion of public and private funds.
But many obstacles already stand between these funds and the most vulnerable communities, including the inadequacy of funding pledges, the balance between money allocated for adaptation or mitigation, a lack of donor coordination, the complexity of funding mechanisms and the special vulnerability of small island developing states and least-developed countries – countries that barely contribute to global greenhouse emissions.

“Approved [climate] finance for projects in the region’s most vulnerable countries, particularly the small Pacific island states, has been modest,” reports the Overseas Development Institute. “Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu cumulatively receive only 4 per cent (USD $83 million) of the total amount approved in the Asia-Pacific region, mostly for adaptation activities.” Funding cuts will just make the shortfall more serious for countries like these.

The cuts can’t be justified by arguing that small island states have a limited capacity to manage aid flows. Australian officials and non-government organisations have been working with the Pacific Islands Forum to establish systems to manage resources effectively and avoid corruption and mismanagement. The Forum secretariat has completed a major study on climate funds in Nauru and published reports on better practice in the region, and last year Oxfam published a report (on which I was the lead researcher) examining regional efforts to strengthen governance of climate adaptation finance.

Beyond this, many of the problems in accessing climate finance lie with the practices of key donors and multilateral organisations. Acknowledging this problem, a June 2012 World Bank report pointed out that “the institutional rigidity of donor organisations makes cooperation and partnership more difficult… Joint programming of climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction activities by donors and implementing agencies is not widespread.”

Nic Maclellan

" Alongside China’s increasing diplomatic influence in the Pacific, a range of other players – from Cuba, Russia and Indonesia to unexpected actors like the United Arab Emirates – are complicating policy in the islands for the ANZUS allies. With larger countries like Papua New Guinea and Fiji taking more assertive regional and international roles, many Australians underestimate the rapidity of change in our region. "

Since 2010, Australia’s fast-start funding for climate adaptation and mitigation has been drawn from the aid budget. With the aid program expanding in those years, and a bipartisan commitment to increase official development assistance to 0.5 per cent of gross national income by 2015, Pacific governments have been reluctant to criticise Australian policy. (Island officials believe, for example, that climate financing was supposed to be “new and additional” to resources allocated for addressing poverty, health, education and women’s empowerment, but they haven’t chosen to make an issue of the fact.)

The decision to abandon the 2015 aid target began under the Gillard government. Labor foreign minister Bob Carr diverted $375 million of aid funds in 2012–13 – funds for humanitarian and emergency responses, women’s programs, agriculture and rural development – to pay for asylum seeker processing. But the Abbott government is going further and faster. Since coming to office, the Coalition has made three key changes to the aid program: cutting $4.5 billion over four years by reversing planned increases in the aid budget; abolishing the aid agency AusAID as a statutory agency and merging its functions into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; and proposing cuts in the number of experienced staff charged with making sure taxpayer funds are well spent.

Under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, Labor met its target of A$599 million of fast-start climate finance in 2010–13. But our fair share of the global target of US$100 billion by 2020 is estimated at $2.4 billion a year, an amount that would require a dramatic shift of attitude within the Coalition.

RECENT announcements about aid and climate finance come at a time when Pacific regionalism is being transformed. Australia’s long-held influence in the Pacific Islands Forum is being eroded by new trends in aid, trade and investment. Pacific governments are diversifying their political and economic links beyond the regional groupings that dominated islands politics throughout the cold war years.

Today, Forum countries are showing growing interest in South–South cooperation and engagement with new partners. Fiji’s coup leader Voreqe Bainimarama has been a key player in this regional realignment. Bainimarama has argued that Pacific nations need an independent grouping outside the Pacific Islands Forum. “We must insist that our voice be heard and heeded,” he has said. “We will dine at the table; we will not be content to pick at the crumbs that remain on the table cloth after the decisions are made and dinner is over.”

With Fiji suspended from Forum and Commonwealth activities since 2009, Bainimarama initiated the “Engaging with the Pacific” meetings in 2010 as a counterpoint to the Forum. In August 2013, these meetings morphed into the Pacific Islands Development Forum, a new regional summit which provides both a mechanism for debate about sustainable development and an alternative meeting place for governments, business and civil society. Over time, the new grouping may evolve into a venue for inter-island dialogue without Forum members Australia and New Zealand in the room.

These trends are also evident globally, reflecting the growing links between the Forum’s island countries and Asian powers. As relations with Canberra and Wellington have soured since the 2006 coup, Fiji has joined the Non-Aligned Movement, established diplomatic relations with a range of key developing nations, and opened new embassies in Brazil, South Africa, Korea and Abu Dhabi.

In 2011, the Asia Group within the United Nations formally changed its name to the Group of Asia and the Pacific Small Islands Developing States. (With Tony Abbott stressing Australia’s links with Anglosphere partners in Washington, Wellington and Ottawa, it’s worth remembering that Australia is part of the UN Western European and Others Group, rather than the Asia-Pacific group.)

The Bainimarama regime’s repression of trade unions, limits on political parties and delays in constitutional and electoral reform have not hampered Fiji’s regional and international influence. This year, Fiji has served as chair of the G77 plus China grouping in the United Nations, an unprecedented role for an islands nation. As Fiji’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Peter Thomson, said in May, “The G77 is the most appropriate international grouping for countries such as Fiji, Kiribati and other PSIDS” – Pacific Small Island Developing States – “to advance the development of their economic agendas in the global context.”

Papua New Guinea is also playing a more independent role in regional politics, reflecting its size as a dynamic, populous nation near the borders of Asia. It is the only Pacific island nation in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation grouping, or APEC, and is seeking full membership of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. With major reserves of timber, fisheries and minerals and new projects to export oil and liquefied natural gas, Papua New Guinea has the potential to influence neighbouring atoll nations.

Attending the Pacific Islands Forum in Majuro last September, PNG prime minister Peter O’Neill said his country will embark on a program of regional assistance with various countries in the Pacific. From next year, the PNG government will introduce a special budget allocation to fund a regional development assistance program. In Majuro, O’Neill increased climate funds to the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and Kiribati, and pledged funds for Fiji’s 2014 elections.

Seizing the moment, China is using loans and investment to expand its diplomatic influence in the region, erode longstanding island ties to Taiwan and blunt US regional influence. According to China’s foreign ministry, “developing friendly cooperation with the Pacific island countries is part of the long-term strategy guideline of China’s diplomacy” and “a role model for South–South cooperation.”

Meeting Pacific leaders in Guangzhou on 8 November, the Chinese government announced a range of loans, grants and scholarships for island nations. Vice-premier Wang Yang announced that China will provide US$1 billion in concessional loans for Pacific island nations to support construction projects. (A loans facility will especially benefit Papua New Guinea and Fiji, where major oil, gas and seabed mining projects are proposed.) A further $1 billion in non-concessional financing would be made available by the China Development Bank.

At a time when Australia is abandoning increases in overseas development aid, the Chinese government is stressing its diplomatic commitment to the region: “China is a reliable and sincere friend and a dependable cooperative partner of the Pacific island countries.” It will build medical facilities and send medical teams to island nations, as well as investing in green energy projects. Beijing will also provide 2000 scholarships over four years to add to the 3600 Pacific officials and technicians who have already received training in China in recent years.

Canberra’s fixation on the carbon tax and domestic climate policies, meanwhile, is overshadowing these regional and international developments. Although Australia remains the largest aid donor in the islands region, the Coalition government is fundamentally transforming our capacity to deliver development assistance in ways that address core regional concerns over poverty, infrastructure, water and food security. And as we move towards a global climate treaty and a summit to replace the Millennium Development Goals in 2015, there are plenty of other players who are stepping up to engage with our island neighbours. •

Nic Maclellan works as a journalist and researcher in the Pacific islands, and is a correspondent for Islands Business magazine.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

X-Post: Gateway House - India’s Strategic Imperative in the South Pacific.

Source: Gateway House

This summary is a part of the larger paper, titled India’s Strategic Imperative in the South Pacific,’ authored by Tevita Motulalo, Senior Researcher, Gateway House. 

Full report available here


As the global centre of gravity shifts to the Indo-Pacific, triggered in part by Chinese expansion and the U.S.’s Pacific “rebalancing,” an expanding Indian engagement with the South Pacific becomes a geoeconomic and geostrategic imperative. The South Pacific sits at the “pivot” of the Pacific rebalancing.

It is a largely stable region with a relatively small population; it has abundant resources (the Exclusive Economic Zone of the country of Kiribati alone is 3.5 million square kilometres, greater than the total land and maritime EEZ area of India); it is at the crossroads of vibrant and growing maritime trade routes; and it is increasingly strategically located.

Under the “one country, one vote” rule of most international fora, the 14 Pacific Island Countries (PICs) play a significant role in deciding international institutional legitimacy, which is increasingly important for India as it seeks a greater role in global affairs.

There is enormous scope for closer economic, political, and strategic ties between India and the South Pacific. Ties between the two are already friendly and age-old, with myriad cultural compatibilities. But if India continues to neglect the region, it will become increasingly difficult for India to maintain, or to regain, a toehold, while other powers like China manoeuvre for, and establish, entrenched positions.

Just one example of India’s low-key engagement in the region: it has only two High Commissions in the 14 PICs. One is in Fiji, because of its sizable Indian diaspora, the other is in Papua New Guinea, because of trade and minerals. India routinely goes unrepresented at regional meetings held in the other 12 PICs. In contrast, China has a major diplomatic mission in almost every PIC.

India and the PICs are natural partners which only need to 6 build the right bridges to come together to make the South Pacific and thereby the greater Indo-Pacific more economically, politically, and strategically secure. Others have already realised the region’s potential and are moving fast. The question is: Will India catch the South Pacific wave, or be washed over by it?


  1. Changing geopolitics: The South Pacific was, until recently, a western backwater “managed” by Australia and New Zealand (NZ). However, the growing economic and strategic importance of the area, combined with regional dissatisfaction with Australia and NZ, have opened up the PICs to other direct bilateral partnerships that bypass Australia and NZ. New (or renewed) players include China, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates.
  2. China’s role in the PICs: China’s involvement in the PICs is widespread. This includes visits by the navy of the People’s Liberation Army; exchanges of high-level delegations; abundant soft loans; copious Chinese scholarships for PIC students; and ethnic Chinese controlling about 80% of the retail sector in countries like the Kingdom of Tonga. However, in many PICs, there is a deep suspicion of the recent surge in Chinese immigration and of the role China is playing in the region.
  3. Duelling trade deals: After long years of neglect of the region, in 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama announced a “pivot”to Asia. Part of that plan is moving 60% of the U.S. Navy into the Pacific. Another element of U.S. re-engagement is the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), a proposed free trade initiative currently consisting of 11 countries (and excluding China), with a collective GDP of around $25 trillion. In part to counter this, China is involved in another proposed regional deal, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). The RCEP will cover a population of over 3 billion people, around 27% of global trade, and around $21 trillion, but it does not include the U.S. India is taking a balanced approach, hoping to capitalise on both.
  4. India and Fiji: India’s ethnic-Indian Fiji-focused policy for the South Pacific has been limiting – even counter-productive – for India, both in Fiji and in the wider region. It has given the other PICs the impression that India is mostly focused on ethnic Indians in the region, rather than on true nation-to-nation engagement. China, conversely, has engaged broadly in Fiji, and now is more influential in Fijian policy-making than India. Broad partnerships with the PICs will not only give India more leverage when lobbying on behalf of the diaspora, it will also create wider economic and political benefits for India and the region.
  5. Trade not aid: The region is naturally rich and getting comparatively richer. However, both Australia and NZ play up the “aid” narrative in the PICs. The two countries use aid for leverage, for example by gaining preferential access to resources in the PICs like fisheries and minerals, while at the same time flooding the PICs with Australian and NZ goods and services, and protecting their own markets from competitive PIC products. The PICs are presented as net aid recipients. However, they contribute far more to the economies of Australia and NZ than they receive in aid. The PICs don’t want aid, they want trade: access to competitively priced, reliable products (such as products from India) and market access for their products.
  6. Scope for economic engagement: The small-scale economies and societies in the Pacific are compatible with the Indian models of village-scale economies and societies. The scope for Indian businesses in the domestic and industrial markets in the PICs is significant. For example, most of the consumer goods in the PICs are either low-cost and low-quality Chinese goods or high-cost Australian and NZ products. In Tonga, a used 14-year-old Toyota costs US $7000. A brand new Tato Nano from India costs half that amount. Across the board, there is a wide opening for reasonably priced, rugged, Indian goods and services, including transportation, information technology and communication hardware and software, agricultural equipment, medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, telemedicine, and tele-education.

The way forward

  1. The South Pacific is ripe for “long-tail” economic engagement, in which profits are made by selling a small amount of a large number of unique products. It will benefit India and the PICs to create a “long-tail” consortium of Indian goods and services providers. The consortium could have one or more agents in each PIC, representing the products locally, giving microfinance services for the purchase, and providing after-purchase care. The shipping and handling costs would be minimised by the consortium sharing shipping space and the services of the local agent to handle customs and other formalities. Increased political engagement will follow increased economic engagement.
  2. A good testing site for this model is the Kingdom of Tonga, a stable, well-educated, English-speaking parliamentary monarchy. Tonga was never colonised and, as the last Kingdom in Polynesia, has informal, but deep, sway in the region. The royal family also provides Tonga with unusual access to key decision-makers outside the region, as it has long-standing, and often personal, ties with other royal families, for example in Japan, Thailand, and Britain. Tonga’s role as a regional leader is increasingly being recognised. In May 2013, for example, Tonga hosted the inaugural South Pacific Defence Meeting, which included New Zealand, Australia, and Chile. In doing this, Tonga led the region in working towards greater security cooperation. Each in their own spheres, India and Tonga have both successfully been at the forefront in drawing the model for emerging sustainable economies and democracies.
  3. Once tested in Tonga, the long-tail economic model, dovetailing with long-tail Indian diplomacy (such as appointing more representatives to the region), can be rolled out throughout the South Pacific. Eventually, the model can be expanded to other previously overlooked, but increasingly important, long-tail environments such as the Caribbean and parts of Africa

Related reading:

1. India-Tonga: Old friends, new engagements
Gateway House published this Op-Ed, by Tevita Motulalo, on 29 May, 2012. He analyses whether India, an old friend of Tonga, can fit into the increasingly important Pacific region by building on traditional ties with the island-nation

2. The geo-strategic Pacific Islands
Gateway House published this Op-Ed, by Tevita Motulalo, on 27 May, 2012. He analyses how the need for resources, and the geopolitical shift towards Asia-Pacific have prompted nations to realize that the small island states in the South Pacific control large resource-rich ocean areas and are increasingly geostrategic.

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Thursday, November 07, 2013

The New Battle for the Pacific: How the West Is Losing The South Pacific To China, The UAE, And Just About Everyone Else.

Far from being small island states, Pacific Island countries are showing themselves as large ocean states, with vast fisheries, potential seabed resources, and increasingly important geostrategic positioning - as the range of military bases dotted throughout the region can attest.

However, just as the region is showing its importance, Western influence is waning. When the larger Western powers pulled out of the region following the end of the Cold War (the United Kingdom, for example, closed three South Pacific High Commissions in 2006), they turned to Australia and New Zealand to "manage" the area for the West. Ms. Cleo Paskal discusses how and why this happened and what are the options for the West in this new battle for the Pacific.

Ms. Cleo Paskal is an Associate Fellow in the Energy, Environment and Resources department at Chatham House, London, and Adjunct Faculty in the Department of Geopolitics, Manipal University, India. 

Recorded at the East-West Center office in Washington, D.C., October 3, 2013

Sunday, November 03, 2013

X-Post : Geopolitics of Racism: The NSA and the 'Five Eyes' Network.

Source: Huffington Post

Posted: 11/02/2013 10:03 pm

As Edward Snowden's disclosures continue to reverberate, the racist contours of geopolitics are becoming ever clearer. According to recent reporting, the Anglo, English-speaking countries of the world, including the U.S. and its allies Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, jointly participate in a spy group called the "Five Eyes" network. Though the classic age of imperialism has long since ended, revelations from the National Security Agency (NSA) scandal suggest that whiter nations of the world continue to harbor a deep and abiding distrust of poorer nations and people of color.

Friday, October 25, 2013

X-Post: Pacific Politics - Lamentations from the Pacific.

Kalafi Moala writes that true freedom will come when Pacific peoples start thinking for themselves.
A cry is being heard from almost every corner of the Pacific; a cry against injustice, a cry against the harsh hand that has been dealt against us in the centuries old deliberate attempt by the powerful West and their allies to shape us and our social culture, to become like them.

In this colonization of the Pacific peoples to transform them into Western thinking and ways, the overall effect have been devastating. We’ve been abused from the back when we were not looking or when we lacked knowledge, but now we are being abused from the front, when some of us knowingly chose to be subservient rather than assertive. You annexed whole island nations like Hawaii, imprisoning kings and queens, giving the leadership of that sovereign kingdom nation to your European business friends. You took our lands and destroyed our culture, and have turned our shores into bases for your powerful military.

Many of our nations, as in Kiribati and Tuvalu, face a crisis that threatens to sink the islands from the sea-level rise effect of climate change, and our ocean environment in many places have been ruined by the same effect, scientifically proven that it is caused by global warming, a condition caused by reckless Western industrialization. Oh thou Great and Almighty West, when will you understand? When will you stop to think that what you have done and are doing to our peoples have hurt us more than helped us? You’ve set yourself up to be our problem solver. Your attitude is that you know more than we do what is best for us. It’s like a drug-based health care; the medicine often produces worse effects than the disease.

Our ancestors suffered from diseases foreign to our shores, diseases introduced to our region through your intrusions, causing epidemics that wiped out whole village populations. You fought your wars on our shores, tested your nuclear weapons on our islands, and the suffering of our peoples in French Polynesia and Micronesia is still being felt with the fatal effects of exposure to radiation. You created geopolitical divisions and partitioning among all of our island nations, so that it would be easier for you to control us. You divided us among your allies: British, American, French, Australian, and even the Kiwis were given a share.

We felt like war spoils being shared around.
Kalafi Moala

" Oh thou Great and Almighty West, when will you understand? When will you stop to think that what you have done and are doing to our peoples have hurt us more than helped us? "
You would not leave us alone because now you need someone to control, which is characteristic of your imperialist nature. But even when some of our nations have been decolonized politically, you’ve continued the re-colonization process through education, media, and other social configurations. And we have become so aid dependent, we lack the knowledge of what else to do, because we have been trained by you not to think creatively but only to think what we’ve been taught.

You mined our gas and petroleum resources, and sold them to the tune of billions, yet our people in those island states remain poor. You exploited our forest resources, and now those areas are barren and our balanced eco systems have been forever altered. You signed agreements with our governments for seabed mining, fishing rights, and to abstract whatever you need from our ocean life.

For thousands of years our peoples were proud to be self-determined and had homegrown solutions to their problems. They sailed our great ocean lanes to trade, to explore, and even to make a fight or two. But thanks to you we are no longer independent as you have given us a system of civilization that makes us dependent on you, and in the process we have lost our dignity and our determination not just to survive but to live thriving meaningful lives.

In our desperate plight to survive, in a world where you control almost everything, we’ve welcomed the willing help offered us by countries like China, India, UAE, Japan, Korea, and others from the non-Western world; but you have insulted us by saying that we are just changing aid dependency from one colonial power to another. You would rather we continue the dependency on you than on others you’ve held in spite because of their success in self-determined development. Well, for whatever its worth, we don’t recall China or India ever taking over by force our sovereign nations. They did not test their nuclear weapons on us, you did. Is it no wonder we welcome their help more than we do yours?

In a world where the standard of success set by you is measured by political, economic, and social wellbeing, rather than by meaningful relationships and its effects of peace and happiness, it is no wonder why it is so hard for us to make it in your world. Some of our people are relegated to the corners of poverty, ignorance, and high crime rate, in your cities.
Kalafi Moala

" You are the same brutal imperialist power that brought suffering to our forefathers, and we have inherited their unjust plight. "
We speak your language, learn your culture, and operate in your system of things, yet you do not respect us enough to learn our language, observe our culture and values. The solutions you have given to us is that we need to be transformed to be like you – we need to learn your systems, practice your culture, in fact, think like you do, and we then can make it in your world.

Some of our leaders, in fact a lot of our people have embraced your ways and think the way you do. They have made alliance with you, and now they have acted like you, abusing us from within, and selling out on our values. For the past two decades you have increasingly ignored the islands of the Pacific partly due to your view that our worth maybe less than any meaningful investment you make.

The Western powers headed up by the USA and UK have diminished involvement in the Pacific, handing Australia and New Zealand the responsibility to “govern and manage Pacific affairs.” These two regional powers have been outsourced the running of things for the Western powers in the Pacific – from trade, fisheries, mining, forestry, transportation, finance, border security, natural disaster management, to telecommunication, energy, climate change, environment, and many other things serving your own interests.

Now that our non-Western friends like China are becoming more involved in our region, you’ve decided to come back in, but your basic mentality, attitude, policy, and practice have not changed. You are the same brutal imperialist power that brought suffering to our forefathers, and we have inherited their unjust plight.

The basis of unjust policy and practice must be replaced with that of justice. But that is not going to happen until the mighty and powerful decide to come to their senses and forego the misguided illusion that might is right, and power cannot be unchallenged.

As the steps to a long journey begin with the first one, it is time Pacific peoples start thinking and doing what needs to be done so as to start them on their journey to freedom. This is a freedom that only them know when it happens, a freedom that restores independence, self-determination, and dignity.

Source: Pacific Politics


Wednesday, October 09, 2013

X-Post: Dominion Post - Fresh Policy Needed With Fiji.

OPINION: New Zealand should be asking itself who rebuffed who in its difficult relationship with Fiji, writes Crosbie Walsh.

Our conflicting image of Fiji - popular tourist destination and unpopular military dictatorship - does little to help us unravel the extremely complex issues that confront this group of islands that are the geographic, communications and economic hub of the South Pacific.
We too easily assume that "democratically elected" is good and "military dictatorship" is bad. We seldom ask whether democracy is always the best means of governance for all cultures, in all situations, and in all countries, and we overlook the possibility that in some situations democracy - and military dictatorships, for that matter - may not be as they seem.

In recent weeks there have been calls, in Australia and New Zealand, to revisit what some, including this writer, see as our failed policy on Fiji. Others, including Victoria University Professor Jonathon Fraenkel, say it is "far better to take the longer view, watch progress carefully on the domestic front, and keep up pressure against the harassment of Fiji's opposition parties, unions and civil society activists" because our "concessions" have been "repeatedly rebuffed" (Let's continue to put the heat on Fiji's strongman, August 14). And so it might seem. Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has called New Zealand's recent lifting of some sanctions "insincere, unneeded and too late". But who first rebuffed who?
Crosbie Walsh

" [T]he policy has failed us and it has failed Fiji. New Zealand needs a new policy, not a slight easement of the same "

New Zealand imposed travel bans on almost everyone connected with the Bainimarama government - even Fiji's soccer goalkeeper chosen to play against us in a qualifying round of the World Cup.
Many Fijians now have close relatives living or studying overseas. They cannot risk being unable to visit them or seek treatment in our hospitals. Unable to recruit suitably qualified civilians, more military personnel were appointed to senior government positions - and a less tolerant approach to those who opposed the government ensued.

We voted for Fiji's suspension from the Commonwealth and the Pacific Islands Forum. Our efforts also led to the EU and Commonwealth withholding assistance to Fiji's vitally important sugar industry. Fiji responded by forming new international alliances, and it now chairs the UN Group of 77 and the International Sugar Organisation. It has revitalised the Melanesian Spearhead Group, and recently hosted the inaugural meeting of the Pacific Island Development Forum. These moves must weaken the forum, and with it, our influence in the Pacific.

Fiji now has a new constitution. It is not the constitution that many government opponents would prefer, but there are sound reasons for the amnesty and transitional clauses to which they object. It is unrealistic, for example, to expect Mr Bainimarama to hand over power to an interim government that could be dominated by his opponents. To do so, would risk losing all that the government thinks it has achieved, and the coup would have been to no purpose.

Mr Bainimarama's opponents give no credit for his promotion of a common national identity. All citizens are now "Fijian" irrespective of race; all can now proudly say they "belong". And for the first time, schools have civics classes to foster inter-racial understanding. One of the old political parties wants Fiji declared a Christian state, and another wants to retain the discriminatory race-based election system. Both want to restore power to ethnic Fijian chiefs who, before the 2006 coup, appointed the president, and dominated senate and most provincial appointments.

The "old political order" that Mr Bainimarama ousted favoured the urban elite and brought few improvements for the urban or rural poor. His reforms have seen much-needed action on a neglected infrastructure, rural and regional development, fair land leases, housing, education, health, work to reduce endemic corruption, and the now improving economy. His critics accentuate the negatives and recognise not one positive.
Not all is well in Fiji. It was not well in 2006. In some human rights areas it is not well now, but it is naive to think Fiji's major problems will be resolved by a partially, or even a fully, democratic government elected in September 2014.

But from my end of the binoculars, things are improving, and they could have been much better much earlier had the Australian and New Zealand governments adopted a more informed and flexible policy towards Fiji.
It is now nearly seven years since the 2006 coup. I see no evidence that the "heat" has produced any positive changes in or for Fiji, and I doubt it will in the future. Quite frankly, the policy has failed us and it has failed Fiji. New Zealand needs a new policy, not a slight easement of the same.

Crosbie Walsh is an Adjunct Professor of Development Geography at the University of the South Pacific, Suva, where he was the founding director of the Centre of Development Studies. Before this, he was the founding director of the Institute of Development Studies at Massey University. He is now retired. 

Source: Dominion Post

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

X-Post: Eureka Street - Finagling Free Trade In The Pacific.

Source: Eureka Street

Jemma Williams | 

Map delineates Pacific Island region relative to Australia and New Zealand Negotiations towards a free trade agreement involving Australia, New Zealand and 14 of our neighbouring Pacific Island countries are underway this week in Port Vila, Vanuatu.
The agreement, known as PACER-Plus, aims to enhance development through greater trade in the region. However, the negotiations are being carried out on unequal playing field, with Australia and New Zealand leading the talks which involve largely small, underdeveloped island nations, five of which are listed by the United Nations as among the least developed countries in the world. Recognising this, Australia and New Zealand are funding the negotiations as well as providing assistance to Pacific Island countries to implement the agreement.

Despite insisting that promoting development in the Pacific is the priority, Australia stands to gain more than most of the Pacific Islands, which already have tariff-free access for their goods into Australian markets under previous trade arrangements. Among the issues expected to be discussed in Port Vila is trade in services, which would mean Australian companies, providing services from banking to health and education, would have unrestricted access to Pacific Island markets, and Pacific Island governments would have less rights to regulate them.

The logic for including services in trade agreements is that established private service providers, in this case based in Australia or New Zealand, would be enticed into Pacific markets through deregulation, and Pacific Island nations would benefit from increased access to the service they provide. Indeed, the entry of international telecommunications companies into a number of these island economies did improve mobile phone coverage and connectivity, including in rural areas.

However, opening up all service 'markets' in vulnerable economies poses many threats. The inclusion of services in a free trade agreement restricts the regulation of any service which could be considered to have any commercial activity or where there are one or more service providers. This deregulation and entry of private service providers is often followed by pressures to privatise essential services like water. In countries like Argentina and Bolivia private companies have raised prices and have not invested in infrastructure in unprofitable areas.
Jeema Williams

" Many Pacific Island nations question what they would gain from PACER-Plus. Earlier in the year Papua New Guinea's trade minister said PNG would gain nothing from the negotiations and he would consider withdrawing. "

Additionally, services are typically negotiated on what is known as a 'negative list basis' — meaning that all services are included unless they are specifically excluded. This means that all services now and in the future would be subject to these rules even in light of new environmental or social problems or new research. This would undermine governments' policy space to address pressing development concerns like climate change, which is already affecting Pacific Island countries.

Many Pacific island nations are already struggling to provide essential services such as water, health and education. Having access to many of these services is a basic human right. Implementing policies to ensure the equitable distribution of essential public services throughout all areas of the country is one of the essential responsibilities of government. Liberalising trade in services could hinder the ability of government to fund or provide local or government-owned services to their most vulnerable populations.

Healthcare is a typical example. Foreign healthcare providers are likely to establish themselves in wealthy areas, profiting by charging high prices to those who can afford it. They would not service rural populations where the majority of people are unwaged and survive on subsistence agriculture. Governments would still have to fund or provide health care to the most vulnerable populations. Additionally, the stark inequalities in healthcare provision could lead to a 'brain drain,' where the most qualified professionals seek work in clinics which serve the wealthy.

Many Pacific Island nations question what they would gain from PACER-Plus. Earlier in the year Papua New Guinea's trade minister said PNG would gain nothing from the negotiations and he would consider withdrawing. The islands are pushing for the inclusion of temporary labour mobility rights so that their citizens will be able to gain visas to work in Australia and New Zealand, as well as more development assistance. Neither of these issues is normally included in free trade agreements, but they are being used as bargaining chips for Pacific Island nations to concede access to Australia and New Zealand access to their services markets.

If the Australian and New Zealand governments really want to achieve development in the Pacific, it is difficult to understand why they are pushing these islands to reduce their barriers to trade in a manner which could restrict their achievement of human development goals.

Jemma Williams headshotJemma Williams has an honours degree in international studies specialising in international development. She currently works for the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network.

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Thursday, August 08, 2013

Fiji Foreign Minister Speaks On Pacific Issues.

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

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

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

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

Audio of the interview ( posted below)

Monday, August 05, 2013

X-Post- Dominion Post: NZ Must Take Balanced Approach To Fiji Govt.

 Source: Dominion Post

There has been a significant change of attitude in Australia to Fiji. Last Tuesday Julie Bishop, deputy leader of the Opposition and shadow minister of foreign affairs and trade, recommended re-engagement with Fiji and the restoration of diplomatic ties with the Bainimarama Government.

In a comment that would have done justice to New Zealand's seemingly forgotten traditional relationship with the Pacific, Ms Bishop said: "We will be guided by the Fijian Government on what they seek from Australia".
She pledged Coalition support "in whatever form Fiji requires" to assist them to get to grips with the challenges involved in establishing a workable parliamentary democracy.

Ms Bishop is, of course, the Opposition representative - though that may change after Australia's election in September. The Australian Labor Government is another matter. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been the poster boy for a hardline approach to Fiji since the coup in 2006. He and predecessor Julia Gillard have focused simplistically on the need for elections. But there is more to it than that.

Since coming to power, Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has cracked down on the hitherto strong Fiji trade union movement. Inevitably Australian trade unions reacted strongly to the difficulties of their Fijian colleagues, and their position has had a powerful influence on Labor Party policy. The opposition parties in Australia recognise no such trade union influence. Ms Bishop's remarks, though sensitive and well-focused, are off the official agenda. But they must be seen as a signal and an important one.

Since the coup in 2006, New Zealand and Australia have offered little to Fiji in what could be seen as the collegiality expected as characterising relationships within the Pacific community. Both governments have continued to provide some aid but Fiji needed more than that. Post coup, it wanted the sort of support and relationship now outlined by Ms Bishop, especially when she says "there are very valuable lessons to be learned if we stand in each other's shoes and we try to see issues from each other's perspective".

As I noted in a comment piece three years ago, Fiji's internal tensions since before independence have to be dealt with by Fijians and the decisions reached have to be accepted by the Pacific and wider community.
Now there are further developments. Since 2006, Fiji has not stood still.
Gerald McGhie

" I am advocating is that New Zealand take a more balanced approach to Fiji. The Australian Opposition has taken an early lead. The key for New Zealand is to again speak in the Pacific with a New Zealand voice, re-establish positive contact with Fiji "

A range of countries have been welcomed in Suva and Fiji has become an active member of the Melanesian spearhead group - which contains the potentially rich Pacific island states. Fiji has also gained the prestigious position of chair of the non-aligned meeting where it has established a high- profile among delegates.
China-Fiji relations have developed strongly, and Fiji's much-sought-after soldiers are well represented in British and United Nations operations in many of the world's hot spots.

The Australian comments are in marked contrast to those coming from New Zealand. In a speech on New Zealand's place in the world late last year, Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Phil Goff made little reference to the Pacific and in later discussion emphasised his continuing view that human rights were the key to progress in Fiji.

Of course, human rights are important and coups cannot be condoned but, given Mr Goff's persistent concerns about human rights and illegal seizures of power, I might have expected a stiff comment on recent developments in Egypt where what looks very like a military coup has taken place. The New Zealand Government also appears to be remarkably quiet on Egypt.

What I am advocating is that New Zealand take a more balanced approach to Fiji. The Australian Opposition has taken an early lead. The key for New Zealand is to again speak in the Pacific with a New Zealand voice, re-establish positive contact with Fiji and, while not accepting the coup, come up with alternative policies in a context of co- operation.

Negotiations will not be easy. But if understandings can be agreed and adhered to, at least there will be some structure on which to build a better relationship.There may be a sense within the Wellington policy establishment that Suva is simply waiting for New Zealand to welcome them back to the Commonwealth, Pacific Forum and PACER trade negotiations. In fact it may not be quite that clear-cut.

Fiji now has a substantial - but not dominant - grouping that asks why they should bow to New Zealand. They point to Fiji's substantial gains since the coup in spite of Australia and New Zealand sponsored opposition and at times hostility. They consider that they should build on their new structures.

The reality is that New Zealand must undertake a similar repositioning to that of the Australian Opposition.
This means a rethink in terms of policy and, even more important, of attitude - leading to less exhortation and more patient discussion. It is now probably too late but if sufficient goodwill is generated, New Zealand might get Fiji's support in its bid for the 2014 Security Council seat. It depends on the quality of diplomacy.

Gerald McGhie is a former diplomat with many years of experience in the Pacific. He is a former director of the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs.

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

X-Post: The Strategist - Another BRIC In The Wall.

Talks between Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister of Fiji Voreqe Bainimarama
Image courtesy of the Government of the Russian Federation.

Is Russia about to become another brick in the wall between Fiji and its Western friends? The official visit by Fiji’s Prime Minister, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, to Russia in late June has further developed a relationship that has been growing significantly closer over the last two years. In the course of the visit, he and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed five agreements, covering topics from financial security cooperation and the abolition of visa requirements through MOUs on health and University cooperation to military-technical cooperation. For a brief hyperbolic moment, Fiji media reports prior to the visit even suggested that Russia was about to open an embassy in Suva to substantially deepened the political relationship.

Fiji’s pursuit of non-traditional friends has intensified while the grip of international sanctions has shown no sign of relaxation, despite the progress made by the Bainimarama Government toward elections by September 2014. Fiji targeted Russia as part of diplomatic initiative centred on the BRICS countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—from early 2011. In February 2012, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Fiji. This was followed up a few months later by a delegation of Russian officials including military officers.

The nature of the mutual interest at that time was subject to the speculation that Russian interests lay in western Asia not the Pacific. This conjecture rested on Moscow’s pursuit of support for its position in the Caucasus region regarding the disputed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Australia’s then Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Richard Marles, openly accused Russia of cheque-book diplomacy in seeking to buy international recognition for the two break-away enclaves .

Russia does have some Pacific objectives of its own, as Russian President Vladimir Putin made clear in open the May 2012 Vladivostok APEC Summit. In its own pivot to the Pacific, RADM Sergei Avakyants, Commander of Russia’s Pacific Fleet, announced that, for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia would send new warships to the Far East in 2014.

Whatever Russia’s motives for encouraging the relationship, Fiji’s Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, promoted the Moscow visit as furthering Fiji’s BRICS initiative. This begs the question of what a BRICS strategy might be. Is it more than a slogan?

The BRICS initiative is, of course, consistent with Bainimarama Government’s pursuit of greater South-South cooperation and support. Undoubtedly the prospect of the BRICS Development Bank is especially attractive in light of difficulties associated with other banks, where perceived Australian interference has worked against access to loans. The more immediate objective is political—to reinforce the Government’s increasing independence from its traditional friends as evidenced by its ‘Look North’ policy.
Richard Herr

" Fiji has joined the Non-Aligned Movement, sought greater South-South cooperation and elevated those regional arrangements that exclude Australia and New Zealand. "
At one level, the ‘Look North’ policy isn’t materially different from any other state beating a path to Beijing’s door in the Asia-Pacific Century. Yet, in Fiji’s case, it’s routinely contrasted with the less sympathetic treatment Suva receives from Canberra, Wellington and Washington, with the implication that China’s an alternative to these traditional friends.

Fiji has joined the Non-Aligned Movement, sought greater South-South cooperation and elevated those regional arrangements that exclude Australia and New Zealand. The BRICS aspect of this agenda has been bolstered bilaterally with the opening of resident diplomatic missions in Brazil and South Africa In the past two years. Fiji has had diplomatic ties with China since 1975. The Bainimarama Government is open in its desire to establish new relations with states that understand and will support its domestic reform agenda. Russian Prime Minister Medvedev gave Fiji his backing, openly asserting that Fiji had the ‘right to be left alone’ by ‘other countries’, implying Australia and New Zealand.

The potential military linkage is raising eyebrows externally especially in the wake of reports that Russia will help to equip nearly 600 Fiji troops on UN peacekeeping deployment to the Golan Heights. Western sanctions have restricted Fiji’s access to military equipment resupply and modernisation since the December 2006 military coup brought Commodore Bainimarama to power.

The Republic of Fiji Military Forces have made small arms purchases from Indonesia and talked with China about more significant assistance. The prospective loss of NATO interoperability with the RFMF has been a source of concern amongst some Western states during this time but not enough to address Fiji’s resupply and modernisation issues. Russian support for the Golan Heights deployment may just be the thin edge of the wedge—a trial prior to a more general re-equipment of the RFMF that will move it and Fiji further away from the country’s traditional Western alignment.

Even if the Russian materiel for the Golan Heights proves more limited, it would still pose some significant challenges for Fiji’s diplomacy and even for the RFMF, which has enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for professionalism in its UN peacekeeping roles. Nevertheless, it has also maintained the confidence of the Israelis when deployed along their borders.

The Fiji mission is fraught enough due to the difficulties that have seen peacekeepers from other countries withdrawn from the Golan Heights, as well as the Hezbollah activity through this area. Russia’s military support for Syria including the recent supply of anti-aircraft missiles to prevent Israeli attacks on Syrian weapons facilities made Tel Aviv suspicious of Moscow’s influence on Fiji peacekeepers. That might be behind the clarification by Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga, the RFMF Land Force Commander, that the Golan Heights deployment already had the equipment they needed.

Just how far Fiji will push the military relationship with Russia and what Israel’s reaction will be are yet untested. Nevertheless, the Bainimarama Government will continue to pursue its BRICS strategy, creating further impediments to a return to a normal relationship with its traditional friends until the impasse over sanctions is resolved.
Even then, Fiji seems committed to new directions that will be more resolutely independent and Asia-focussed than pre-2006 and certainly with less of the ‘traditional’ in its relationships.

Richard Herr is the Adjunct Professor of Pacific Governance and Diplomacy at the University of Fiji where he is also the Honorary Director of the Centre for International and Regional Affairs. 

Source: The Strategist

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