Feb 20, 2020 Last Updated 2:32 AM, Feb 14, 2020
In September 2019, after 36 years, Solomon Islands severed its diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan) and established formal relations with the People’s Republic of China (China). A Solomon Islands parliamentary bipartisan task force had reviewed relations with China and Taiwan and recommended the diplomatic switch, arguing that ‘Solomon Islands should not bet on Taiwan’s assistance’ and that ‘Solomon Islands stands to benefit a lot if it switches and normalise diplomatic relations with PRC’. Clearly foreign aid is a central theme in the diplomatic game. But how does aid from China and Taiwan compare, especially to the PacificIsland countries (PICs)? 
In response to growing concerns about Chinese aid, China’s State Council released two white papers on foreign aid in 2011 and 2014 that provide a brief history of Chinese aid and the volume of aid granted between 1950 (the year Chinese aid started) and 2012. However, there is no breakdown of aid spending by year and recipient country. China does not have a comprehensive law covering its foreign aid. Instead, a handful of regulations pertains to Chinese aid delivery, especially the Measures for the Administration of Foreign Aid, adopted in2018.
In 2009, Taiwan issued its first and only white paper on foreign aid, in an effort to increase aid transparency and accountability. In 2010, Taiwan passed the Act for the Establishment of the International Cooperation and
Development Fund to guide aid delivery. 

In terms of aid volume, Chinese aid to PICs totalled US$1.05  billion between 2011 and 2016, which is nearly four times Taiwan’s cumulative aid (US$271 million). However, given the larger populations of the Pacific states that recognise China, the per capita aid spending of China in the Pacific is US$108, which is less than half of Taiwan’s per capita aid spending (US$237) in the region.

Competition for diplomatic recognition has driven China’s and Taiwan’s aid programmes in the Pacific. Aid has been used as a tool for both sides to garner support. China insists its aid to recipients should be understood in terms of SouthSouth cooperation and is mutually beneficial. The Chinese government regards PICs as part of the greater periphery in its diplomacy and the southern extension of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The China–Oceania–South Pacific blue economic passage is seen as part of what is termed ‘the 21st century maritime silk road’ that will travel southward from the South China Sea into the Pacific.

Besides bolstering its diplomatic relations, Taiwan’s white paper on foreign aid emphasises that providing foreign aid is a means for Taiwan, which was once a beneficiary of foreign aid from the United States and Japan among others, to give back to the international community and also to share Taiwan’s developmental experience with partner countries. Given four of Taiwan’s remaining 15 diplomatic allies are from the Pacific (Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau and Tuvalu), the importance of the region to Taiwan is self-evident. Taiwan has been seeking  to strengthen relations with PICs through its New Southbound Policy  introduced by President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016 and to highlight the shared cultural and linguistic links between the two sides.

While most of China’s and Taiwan’s aid goes to their diplomatic allies, both also provide a limited amount of aid to countries with no diplomatic ties.

Bilateral aid dominates aid from China and Taiwan to the Pacific region. The majority of Chinese aid goes into largescale infrastructure projects in the form of concessional loans such as the US$46 million for constructing the Goroka University dormitory (phases 2–4) in Papua New Guinea. This has sparked debate about the indebtedness of PICs. In comparison, Taiwan’s aid has focused on technical assistance in agriculture and health, government scholarships and small- to medium-sized infrastructure such as a solar power plant in Nauru. Taiwan also uses aid to promote people-to-people links. In August 2013, Taiwan’s Institute of Diplomatic and International Affairs and the East-West  Center in Hawai‘i  launched a five-year Pacific Islands Leadership Programme with Taiwan which was extended for another five years. By 2018, a total of 144 Pacific youth leaders had participated in the programme, including from all eight PICs that recognise China.

Until September 2019, Taiwan had delivered about 70 percent of its Solomon Islands aid budget through rural constituency development funds. The fact that Taiwan had paid scant attention to mega-infrastructure had apparently been resented; the parliamentary bipartisan task force complained that ‘Taiwan will not do anything substantial in infrastructure development to support the economic growth of Solomon Islands.’ China has promised to provide aid to Solomon Islands in sectors such as infrastructure, constituency development funds, scholarships and the 2023 Pacific Games. 

Both China and Taiwan provide aid predominantly throughgovernment channels. For China, the only civil society organisation involved is the government-backed China Red Cross, which provides donations to PICs at times of natural disasters. In Taiwan, the Taiwan Alliance in International Development (Taiwan AID), an umbrella organisation for nearly 30 Taiwanese NGOs working overseas, assists aid delivery. Both circumvent sensitive areas such as democracy, human rights and governance in PICs. Some aid experts from Taiwan AID suggest Taiwan adopt a human rights-based approach and allow civil society organisations to play a greater role in aid delivery to differentiate Taiwan from China’s tight control of such organisations overseas. The diplomatic tug-of-war between China and Taiwan is expected to intensify in the Pacific in the foreseeable future. China seeks to have the upper hand and utilise its political and economic leverage, including through aid and the BRI, to win over Taiwan’s diplomatic allies. For Taiwan, it is likely to use aid to prevent a domino effect after Solomon Islands and Kiribati switched to China. Having a smaller number of diplomatic allies means Taiwan now has more aid resources at its disposal in the Pacific.

This version of the Department of Pacific Affairs In Brief
2019/20 appeared first on Devpolicy Blog, devpolicy.org, from
the Development Policy Centre at The Australian National

Denghua Zhang is a Research Fellow at the Department of
Pacific Affairs at ANU.

‘The Blue Pacific’ is touted by all and sundry as the collective ‘identity’ of Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) members. As such, ‘The Blue Pacific’ is the identity badge by which PIF’s particularity and uniqueness is determined. In analysing the components of ‘The Blue Pacific’ and how they have woven their influence and impact, or otherwise, on Pacific regionalism, it can be said that such an identity has fallen short in effectively determining PIF’s uniqueness and singularity. Regional unity, for example, has been deficient in spawning such uniqueness. Such a discrepancy may be viewed as a work in progress; and there is obviously further work to be done. As such, this article may present an opportunity to re-visit our identity for some re-working, desperately needed in the interest of Pacific regionalism and especially in the context of the proposed ‘2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent.’

The PIF has an uncanny voracity for planning and strategising. It raises questions of propriety and confidence. Not long ago, the region had the Pacific Plan. So much effort and resources were devoted to its development. That transformed into The Framework for Pacific Regionalism (FPR) after dissatisfaction was expressed regarding the Plan’s structural coherency, ownership and lack of implementation. It took an external high-powered committee that consulted widely to arrive at those findings. PIF Leaders then agreed to make the transformation.

After the 2019 Funafuti annual meeting of the Leaders last August, the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent was agreed upon. The PIF Secretariat has been mandated to provide the Terms of Reference, inclusive of the mandate to the Specialist Sub-Committee on Regionalism (SSCR), to the Leaders when they meet in 2020 in Vanuatu. The status and form of the FPR in the context of the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific is a matter of speculation. Whatever it will be, there will be a period of readjustment. Naturally, this will impose a brake on Pacific regionalism. The hope of course is that there will be sufficient collective vigour in the region to drive regionalism forward. With the benefit of hindsight, it has to be said that the level of vigour needed this time around has to be of an unprecedented level if Pacific regionalism has to generate genuine meaning and benefits to its members, particularly the developing country and least developed country members.

Apart from questions of propriety and confidence as per above, it is prudent to also ask the question whether the fundamentals that we are presenting for reconfiguring our regionalism are in order. One of these is our identity, or what we perceive as our identity – ‘The Blue Pacific.’ Asking this question is common-sense. Our identity is a building block of our regionalism. Therefore, is ‘The Blue Pacific’, as conceived, consistent with the proposed 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific? Related questions also arise. For example, given that we may claim immediate stewardship of the Pacific Ocean because of our immediate geography, can we still claim autonomy given the shared utility of the Pacific Ocean globally?

The region’s articulation of ‘The Blue Pacific’ opens with what I may term as a chink in its armour. The region, collectively, has lost its potential of its shared stewardship and it wants to re-capture it. As an opening bat, it is  hardly inspirational nor aspirational. This is a statement that others outside the region may perceive as a general weakness on the part of the region, the Forum and its members; and it presents a situation that can be easily exploited.

We see already different forms of exploitation. Outside powers, including Pacific Rim powers, disregard the region’s agency to speak on issues important to us and with which we claim legitimacy. They don’t even bother to consult. They know better! Dr Tarcisius Kabutaulaka of the University of Hawai’i wrote about this in his paper: ‘China, Pacific Islands & The West’s Double Standards.’ He concluded that “PICs are treated as pawns in their power play-offs”; adding that ‘This is reminiscent of the Cold War era when the Oceania was often regarded as an Anglo-Franco-American lake and where western countries deployed a policy of ‘strategic denial.’

The Indo-Pacific strategy was imposed recently by the Quadrilateral (Quad) countries (US, India, Japan and Australia) onto the region without consultations. Japan, essentially as an afterthought, used the opportunity of its 2018 Pacific Leaders Meeting (PALM) summit just to inform Pacific Island Countries (PIC) Leaders of the imposition. It was not consultation. Australia, of all countries, consulted France and the UK on the other side of the globe about their respective engagement under the Indo-Pacific Strategy this side of the globe, but no consultation whatsoever with fellow Forum members except New Zealand, its fellow PIF’s developed country and OECD member.
It makes sense therefore that the introduction into our identity needs strengthening and reformulation. Clear heads need to come together to review the narrative of our identity. To open forcefully, not hinting at a chink in our armour, but with clear articulation of our premium strength that we want to celebrate and built upon and to which others feel obliged to pay respect and homage. The SSCR can launch such a review in preparation of its submission to the PIF Leader’s next meeting in Vanuatu.

The blurb on ‘The Blue Pacific’ contains expressions that are open to different interpretations; and they need repackaging. The SSCR can attend to  this as well. Shared ‘ocean identity’, ‘ocean geography’ and ‘ocean resources’ can easily be misconstrued. Pacific Rim countries, for example, can legitimately claim shared ‘ocean identity’, and shared ‘ocean geography’.

Furthermore, any country in the world can claim shared ‘ocean resources’ when it comes to mining of seabed resources contained in international waters or trans-boundary waters. So, when non-PIF countries read in the region’s identity, expressions of ‘collective potential’, ‘shared stewardship’, ‘collective action’, they readily include themselves in those shared initiatives. Generally speaking, such a move with little invitation, to propel a collective initiative, is generally welcome. However, if the stated and unwritten interests of the new-comers (including geopolitics), overwhelm and frustrate those of the hosts and their respective autonomy, then it would be opportune to return to first base and undertake a re-think of our strategy and the fundamentals of that strategy.

When it comes to climate change, there is a global focus on the Pacific Ocean –but not because PIF and its 18 member countries happen to be situated within.It is because of the belief that the Pacific Ocean is mostly  responsible for such climate change. Simon Winchester, for instance, writes in ‘Pacific’ (2015): “…if the Pacific Ocean is the principal generator of the world’s weather, then the ultimate source of all Pacific’s extreme meteorological behaviour is the initial presence of its massive aggregation of solar-generated heat.” This makes the Pacific Ocean, not only a global focus, but clearly global ‘common property’.

The task is not going to be easy in reconceptualising the region’s identity. An identity is the outward expressions of one’s particularity and uniqueness. It assumes unity – unity of association and unity of purpose, to be particularly unique. The SSCR has its work cut out. The SSCR members will need to enlist the regional clout of our regional champions and the zenith of their own creativity to get mileage on this matter.

• The author is a former Fijian ambassador and Foreign
Minister and runs his own consultancy company in Suva, Fiji.

In July 2019, at the inaugural Indonesian Exposition held in Auckland, New Zealand, Indonesia launched its ‘Pacific Elevation’, laying claim to a Pacific islands identity and touting its elevated engagement with the region. The event was attended by dignitaries including the foreign ministers of Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia plus representatives from some Pacific island countries. Jakarta also used the occasion to establish diplomatic relations and sign cooperation agreements with the Cook Islands and Niue.

Indonesia’s Foreign Minister, Retno Marsudi described it as “a new era of Pacific partnership. A ‘Pacific Elevation’.”  Jakarta used the occasion to peddle its claim that Indonesia is culturally and ethnically linked to the Pacific islands. Marsudi said that she “saw Polynesian and Melanesian faces thatwould not be out of place all over Indonesia.” Indonesia’s Ambassador to New Zealand, Tantowi Yahya, asked those fromPapua, Maluku, and East Nusa Tenggara to stand up as he said to the crowd, “Look at them. They 100 per cent look like you.”

Indonesia is laying claim to a Pacific islands identity by presenting itself as a Pacific island country and therefore asserting a right to be engaged in and influence in the region. But why does Indonesia claim to be a Pacific island country? What does Indonesia’s ‘Pacific Elevation’ mean for the region? Who and what is being elevated? What underlies this relationship? How does Oceania fit into Indonesia’s foreign policy agenda?These are a few of the many questions that Pacific island countries should consider as they engage with Jakarta.

Central to the Pacific Elevation are two issues: trade and
West Papua.

Indonesia’s trade with Pacific island countries is currently worth around A$656 million. Jakarta aims to increase it. In an opinion column in The Jakarta Post on March 21, 2019, which was published at the time of the Indonesia-South Pacific Forum (ISPF) meeting in Jakarta, Marsudi highlighted  the negotiations for Preferential Trade Agreements (PTAs) with Papua New Guinea and Fiji. Marsudi says, “The PTAs are expected to transform our similar sociocultural traits,historical traditions and political partnership into concrete economic benefits for the peoples of Indonesia and the South Pacific.”

However, concealed in its claim to a Pacific Islands identity is an issue that has long been a thorn in Indonesia’s sandal, but a gem in its bank account: West Papua.

Jakarta is determined to quell discussions about West Papua amongst Pacific islanders. In the past two decades, there has been an increasing awareness of the human rights abuses and atrocities committed by the Indonesian state against indigenous Melanesian West Papuans since the 1960s. Many Pacific islanders support indigenous West Papuans’ demands for the Indonesian state to be held accountable and for self-determination to be considered. This is even if their governments have different policies or are indifferent to the issue.

So, when the Melanesians were showcased at the Auckland event, what the Indonesian Foreign Minister and Ambassador conveniently glossed over was the fact that West Papuans have been abused and marginalised; their lands have been alienated, and about 500,000 of them have allegedly been murdered by the Indonesian state in the past 50 years.

At the regional level, the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) walks a tightrope. Since 2000, it has raised concerns about human rights violations, but acknowledges Indonesia’s sovereignty over West Papua.

Discussions about West Papua cause anxiety for the Indonesian Government. In an attempt to strengthen its presence in the region and drown out talks about the issue, Jakarta has inserted itself in regional and sub-regional organisations, becoming a Forum Dialogue Partner in 2001 and an Associate Member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) in 2015.

The Pacific Elevation therefore enhances Indonesia’s presence and interests in the region, aims to increase trade and suppresses any support for West Papua’s demands for independence. As icing on the diplomatic cake, in October 2019, Jakarta announced its plan to set aside a A$1 billion endowment fund by 2021, from which A$60 million will beallocated as aid to Pacific island countries annually.

Indonesia’s Pacific Elevation should also be understood within the context of Indonesia’s emergence as a Southeast Asian power with a growing economy, a large population, a sizeable military, and a government determined to make its mark in domestic and international arenas. Under President Joko (“Jokowi”) Widodo, Indonesia’s foreign policy is framed around its Global Maritime Fulcrum (GMF) initiative, which aims to establish the country as a global maritime axis.

This is particularly significant given Indonesia’s location between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, which have become geopolitically important in the wake of the contests for influence between the US and its allies on one hand, and China on the other. Jakarta takes advantage of that rivalry and emerging geopolitical trends such as the Indo-Pacific “to establish sea connectivity, which will bring Indonesia closer to the South Pacific.” As part of this strategy, Jakarta has mapped Oceania into its sphere of influence and elevated its interests. In the process, it hopes to drown out any support for West Papuan independence.

As Pacific island governments embrace Indonesia, there is a need to ask: What/who is being elevated in the Pacific Elevation?

Dr Tarcisius Kabutaulaka is an Associate Professor and
Director of the Center for Pacific Islands Studies at the
University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. The views expressed here are
his personal opinion.


The Pacific Islands Forum Leaders, at their meeting in Funafuti, Tuvalu, last August, endorsed the development of a ‘2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent.’ Leaders thus tasked the Secretariat ‘to work closely with Members to prepare a draft strategy for Leaders’ consideration in Vanuatu in 2020.’ It is expected that in due course detailed terms of reference (TOR) will emerge.

However, there are ample references and directions in the Tuvalu Communique that will inform the TOR. Apart from providing clarity, these references and directions are of interest in that they present a mix of conventionality and novelty. Whilst the former is run-of-the-mill, the latter is curious. So much so that it fuels speculations that the format and the architectural configuration of the future Forum, in the context of the new Strategy, is likely to be a radical departure from what has prevailed since the inception of the Forum in 1971.

The first approach agreed to by Leaders is curious. Leaders welcomed the offer by the former PM of Tuvalu to commence dialogue to formulate a new 2050 vision. It would be expected of course that former PM Sopoaga, as the then chair of the PIF Troika, would initiate any action towards realising the Strategy. But this is not stated categorically in the Communique. This fuels speculation that Sopoaga had been hand-picked for other reasons. 

It is general knowledge that Sopoaga has been regularly speaking out publicly against Australia for undermining the Boe Declaration. Recently, he questioned the justification of Australia’s membership of the Forum. Fiji PM Bainimarama added his weight to that viewpoint after the Funafuti meeting. In this general context, Sopoaga proposed the idea of a ‘United States of the Pacific’ (see June 2019 IB Issue) as a forum for Pacific Island Countries (PICs) only “to amplify their concerns about climate change on the global stage.”

Even more curious is the Leaders’ sanction that in envisioning the 2050 vision, Sopoaga needs only to focus on the ‘vision for PICs that recognised the Blue Pacific Continent.’ This is an unequivocal reference to restricting the vision to only a sub-grouping of Forum members without the developed country members of Australia and New Zealand (ANZ).

Furthermore, Sopoaga’s sanctioned TOR also apply to ascertaining how PICs ‘can form an effective union.’ As if that was not clear enough, the Tuvalu Communique then made the link to the SAMOA Pathway and the Boe Declaration as existing platform upon which to build this exercise.

The SAMOA Pathway is the UN-sponsored Action Platform for small island developing states (SIDS Action Platform). In the context it is used, the SAMOA Pathway is acknowledging the Pacific SIDS (PSIDS), a recognised grouping in the UN. PSIDS was also used interchangeably with PICs in the region up to 2016. Since then, two French territories have become Forum members and any continued usage of such interchangeability needs qualification.

It can be envisaged therefore that the provisions of the Tuvalu Communique are intended to ring-fence the PICs and their visions so that they can be prioritised in the proposed 2050 Strategy. The added reference to the Boe Declaration as a basis to build upon, is essentially to ensure framing into the new Strategy PICs’ ‘safe and secure future for the Pacific in the face of climate change.’ Note that the Boe Declaration reaffirms ‘that climate change remains the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific and our commitment to progress the implementation of the Paris Agreement.’ 

The SAMOA Pathway will of course provide directions as to how the PICs’ specific interests should be framed in the new Strategy. The Pathway, like the UN’s ‘The Future We Want’ before it, ascribes the status of ‘a special case’ to SIDS ‘for sustainable development in view of their unique and particular vulnerabilities and they remain constrained in meeting their goals in all three dimensions of sustainable development.’

The status of ‘a special case’ is a critical concept for the formulation of concessions and other forms of special and differential treatments. It can be applied across issues as widely as imagination, innovation and commitment allow. It is essentially a guide intended for global partners particularly on how to package their respective development assistance for optimal utility to the final beneficiaries. 

In the context of the Tuvalu Communique, the ring-fencing of the PICs by way of consideration of an ‘effective union’ and the specification of their own distinctive visions were intended as tools for envisioning the new Strategy. They cannot be considered any other way. The new Strategy is to be founded on the unity of the current Forum membership. That is implicit. ANZ are foundation members of the Forum; which is not in any doubt. Inclusivity is a fundamental principle of the Forum. The challenge of course is to recognise this prevailing unity which envelops its constituent parts. 

The tools for envisioning the new Strategy above, however, are essentially contingencies for structural review of the Forum’s architecture intended to preserve the unity of the group. Such a review is not just for the sake of another review. It is in the genuine interest of creating an architecture that will transform Pacific regionalism and maximise benefits to its membership, especially the PICs. A possible architecture envisaged would be one that offers space for a PICs-only forum with an overarching link to ANZ’s own forum. The overarching architecture, with its relevant governance structure, becomes the new Forum. ANZ already have their Closer Economic Relations (CER) and they may consider this as the natural component to counterbalance the PICs-only forum under the new architecture.

After 48 years of Pacific regionalism, the Forum drastically needs to demonstrate increased returns on its investment, cost-effective operations, and that the region is coherently integrated – generally and economically, apart of course from its effective integration into the global economy. There is more to be done. PICs have to increase tangible benefits from regionalism. The Forum Secretariat in particular, has to avoid being the whipping boy in the region. 

The idea of a PICs-only forum in the greater context of the Pacific Islands Forum, is not new. Regional commentators, for example, have explored the two-caucus approach that launched the South Pacific Forum as a way forward to increasing the benefits to members, especially PICs. I referred earlier to Sopoaga’s idea of the United States of the Pacific. This was in the context of having a structure that would amplify PICs’ agency on climate change globally. In my chapter: ‘Towards a New Regional Diplomacy Architecture’, in Greg Fry and Sandra Tarte (eds) The New Pacific Diplomacy, I explore the prospect of such an architecture. 

For the Forum, the new 2050 Strategy is intended as a plan, an undertaking and a framework aimed at ‘securing our future in the Pacific.’ The novelty of an approach with which to envision the new Strategy, sanctioned by Forum Leaders, is constructive. It is also a tacit acknowledgement that run-of-the-mill solutions for Pacific regionalism may have seen their heyday. It is time to be innovative. A new reality dawns. I foreshadowed such prospect in my latest article: ‘Death of Pacific Regionalism?’ Propitiously, a sea change for the Blue Pacific Continent beckons.



• The author is a former Fijian ambassador and Foreign Minister and runs his own consultancy company in Suva, Fiji.

I was impressed by the words of Vice-Chancellor, Professor Pal Ahluwalia, during the USP’s Emalus Campus graduation ceremony in Port Vila when he said: “Continue to live by the values of your University in all that you do; embody excellence, embrace innovation, uphold the highest ethical standards and operate with integrity; be respectful, and celebrate diversity.” I recalled enrolling for my first university courses after college in 2010 at the USP Santo Campus. My dream started with a little and tiny piece of hope because I never thought I would ever continue to the end, given that only the lucky ones were given an opportunity for scholarship to travel to Suva where most of USP’s face-to-face courses are offered. After nine long years my dream came true: I finally walked up the stage to receive my certificate, graduating with a BA majoring in Journalism and Politics on 29 November 2019.

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