THE derivation of the ‘United States of the Pacific’, (USoP), an optional conceptual supra-state construct for the 48-year old Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) is reminiscent of the Lae Rebellion of 1965. The rebellion marked the break-away by five Pacific Island Countries (PICs) from the South Pacific Commission (SPC, now rebranded as the Secretariat of the Pacific Community) and the creation of the South Pacific Forum in 1971. The brief for the new regional structure is the now-familiar lament of PIC leaders for greater commitment to addressing climate change. The USoP may evoke grandiosity. But as a prospective regional architectural structure, it is not unprecedented; and its time may have come.
It is a rebellion of sorts. Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga is not a happy camper. He takes serious exception to the suggestion by former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd that Pacific islanders of Tuvalu, Kiribati and Nauru swap Australian citizenship for maritime resources owned by them. Rudd reckons that this would be a long-term solution, in any case, for the three PICs that are likely to go under with rising sea levels.
Since such a suggestion requires these PICs to surrender their respective sovereignty through involuntary constitutional changes, Sopoaga castigates the suggestion as being neo-colonialist and ‘imperial thinking.’ In Sopoaga’s mind, this suggestion is a ‘red herring’ that does not even pretend to solve the problem at hand.
Furthermore, the ire of the good PM is heightened after he notes that such a demeaning suggestion is coming from Australia after the signing of the Boe Declaration in 2018 by PIF Leaders in which climate change is reaffirmed as the “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.”
Sopoaga’s resentment is particularly piqued by the fact that Australia had “exported $66 billion in coal last year, making it (its) most valuable traded commodity.” This is not in the true spirit of the Boe Declaration, he feels. ABC reported his statement: “The more (Australia fails to be) serious about cutting coal and exporting this for money, the more problematic the issue of global warning and the more we have to adapt.”
It was in this context when Sopoaga proposed: “the establishment of a Pacific supra-state, along the lines of the European Union (EU), that is based on cooperation and integration, perhaps into some form of United States of the Pacific.” This supra-state will comprise ‘small Pacific Island nations’ and its raison d’être is “to amplify their concerns about climate change on the global stage.”
Reflecting the Lae Rebellion, Sopoaga’s strategic move is to break from the configuration that constitutes the PIF currently to that of the USoP.
The specific architecture of the USoP is a matter of conjecture. It is clear however that it would be a forum of only PICs. What is unclear is whether it is intended as a form of regionalism or federalism or some other variants of the latter.
However, the references to the new entity being ‘based on cooperation and integration’ and exhibiting aspects of the EU, are hints strongly suggesting regionalism and not federalism or any of its variants.
It can be taken therefore that USoP would be an only-PICs/PSIDS forum. This is reminiscent of course of the 1971 SPF that started off as a two-caucus configuration – one for the five PICs and the other for Australia and New Zealand (ANZ). That configuration was determined after the five PICs opted to include ANZ in their new break-away forum. But the two-caucus approach became a single caucus approach in 1972. Australia, interestingly, was the force behind the merger of the two caucuses.
That was then. The direction the current altercation is taking appears to be single-mindedly on formation of a PICs/PSIDSonly forum. And that is essentially on basis of its intended raison d’être. Climate change, caused by global warming, is an existential threat for PICs. Sopoaga’s castigation of Australia’s undermining of the Boe Declaration, but specifically on its coal policy, echoes the concerns of other PICs Leaders. Sopoaga leads from the forefront because of the existentiality of the threat on his low-lying atoll country. Tuvalu is one of the three atoll states in the Pacific seriously impacted by rising sea levels. And on a global level, one of the four.
Questions of a USoP’s rationality and justification are valid considerations. But this has to be viewed from the perspective of existentiality of the threat. In such context, any strategy that promises relief and an escape from a certain devastation, is a strategy worth considering. There is nothing untoward about this. Humans are hard-wired to always seek preservation and self-improvements; and conservation is very much a part of that. Any physicist or futurist will tell you that.
Consideration of sustainability comes next. How can a USoP be made sustainable? How can USoP be effectively resourced? This is an obvious challenge for the PICs/PSIDs. The solution must lie in the collective’s imagination. It is therefore the collective’s responsibility to elevate its imagination to unprecedented heights to seek relevant solutions. If global powers are queuing up to be counted in the Pacific, the largest ocean on Planet Earth, if they are always seeking PSIDS’ support at the UN to get the numbers that secure mandatory majority of backers, then USoP should not be lacking prospective offers of assistance.
From the perspective of good governance and strategic autonomy, USoP has to be sustainably and innovatively funded. This is its quid pro quo.
If, for historical sentimentality and/or propriety, the linkage with ANZ is to be preserved, then this too can be addressed. Possible solutions are within our grasp. Clearly, however, any solution must preserve the PICs/PSIDS-only forum configuration. The idea of a two-caucus approach was tried in 1971, each caucus having its own meeting and then coming together for a joint meeting, then adopting a joint communique as a result.
This two-caucus approach worked recently during the negotiations on PACER Plus. PICs negotiators planned out their trade strategy separately and then they negotiated with their counterparts from Australia and New Zealand.
If the preference is for a more formalised configuration, then we can learn from that existing relationship between the EU and the Pacific members of the African Caribbean and Pacific Group of states (PACPs). PACPs are members of the ACP Group. But under the existing Cotonou Agreement, EU has a direct structural link with the PACPs. The EU has its regional indicative programme with PIF/PIFS and national indicative programmes
with individual PACPs.
In my chapter: ‘Towards a New Regional Diplomacy Architecture’, published in ‘The New Pacific Diplomacy’, edited by Greg Fry and Sandra Tarte, 2015, ANU Press, I provided an architectural configuration that captures such a relationship with Australia and New Zealand. The same configuration can be expanded to link with other global powers wanting to partner with PICs/PSIDS.
Sopoaga’s USoP emerged from the concern about the existentiality of global warming/climate change in PICs and how best this can be addressed by them. It may have come about from disillusionment with PIF member Australia. It does demonstrate however the strength of feeling when an existential threat does not receive the commitment it deserves.
The author is a former Fijian ambassador and Foreign Minister and runs his own consultancy company in Suva, Fiji.
IS our region’s largest country, Papua New Guinea, part of Pasifika? It’s a debate that has recently played out on the pages of an influential PNG blog. Two of the country’s most prominent commentators have their say here, in important discussions about the future of regionalism.
PNG is not Pasifika – we are not so much of the ocean
By Martyn Namorong
Last year in Goroka I attended a party at a hotel. Although hundreds of kilometres from the sea and high in the clouds of the Papua New Guinea highlands, it was a Pasifika themed party.
Luckily I had taken along my sulu on that work trip and so, wearing my sulu and a bula shirt, I was pretty much 100 percent Pasifika for the night. (It also turned out I was the only Pasifikadressed party goer, so by default won the prize that was on offer.)
My Goroka experience provided a glimpse into how PNG wants to be Pasifika but doesn’t behave as such. Not just in fashion, of course, but in terms of common values and more importantly the customs (kastom) that define this region and its people.
My first observation of why I think PNG is not a Pasifika nation is that of how we perceive our physical environment. One really gets a sense of Pasifika as the ‘liquid continent’ when taking off from Honiara, Nadi or Nuku’alofa and noting how tiny are the islands and how vast the ocean. From Port Moresby, you can look to the horizon and see land stretching to the peaks of the highlands.
This is an important contrast because it gives Pasifika people a sense of their place in the world. Do we Papua New Guineans see ourselves as people of that liquid continent of which wrote Tongan-Fijian writer and anthropologist ‘Epeli Hau’ofa?
In the current context of regional integration, do we see ourselves as part of the Pacific Islands Forum’s agenda as people of the Blue Continent with a Blue Economy? Is PNG’s economic future on land or in the ocean like other Pasifika nations?
Questions about a shared Pasifika future are important because, while some policy thinkers at the regional and national level may think so, my view is that PNG doesn’t share this common future with its Pasifika neighbours.
The first and most important reason I say PNG is not Pasifika is that it needs to and wants to industrialise to take care of its eight million people.
Indeed we are already extracting large quantities of carbon (oil and gas) from the ground selling it to the world. And we have coal which we might soon be exploiting.
Harsh as these words read, whilst we will feel negative consequences of climate change, these may not erase our nation from the surface of the earth like they might other Pasifika states.
So while industrialisation means increased carbon emissions and contributing to global warming and climate change, perhaps we can afford to do this because much of our land mass is 1,000 meters above the sea. PNG is also not Pasifika because of the nature of the relationship the State has with Society which is different from other
Pasifika countries. Regional integration is easier if nation states have shared values and principles of governance.
The relationship between State and Society in PNG is one I would describe as paternalistic whereas Pasifika states tend to be more Maternalistic.
In PNG, the economic relationship between state and society is a predatory relationship. Waigani’s predatory elite exploit the land and resources of the people, apparently in the national interest. In terms of the provision of public goods and services, the State tends to throw out its people to fend for themselves and be exploited without social safeguards or even access to justice. Pasifika governments tend to take better care of their people and protect their interests.
There are other perhaps more controversial areas of contrast like culture, sovereignty, decolonisation, demilitarisation and West Papua, but I won’t delve there for now.
My view is that PNG has a very different development trajectory to that of other Pacific island nations.
It won’t be easy to chuck PNG out of the regional space due to historical and geographical reasons, but I believe PNG’s place in the Pacific is similar to that of Australia and New Zealand.
We are a friend, but we are not a member of the Pasifika family of nations
Martyn Namorong is the Coordinator of the Papua New Guinea Resource Governance Coalition, and a member of the PNG EITI Multi-Stakeholders Group (PNGMSG).
PNG is Pasifika by necessity: A response to Martyn Namorong
By Patrick Kaiku
The commentary in PNG Attitude by Martyn Namorong, ‘PNG is not Pasifika – we are not so much of the ocean’, needs rebuttal. Namorong’s critique is not new. Solomon Islands scholar Tarcisius Kabutaulaka made similar observations in relation to Epeli Hau’ofa.
Kabutaulaka stated: “We need to recognise that focusing on the ocean as the element that connects us immediately marginalises the millions of people who live inland, in places like the highlands of Papua New Guinea, for whom the ocean has little significance.”
Kabutaulaka concedes however, that Hau’ofa “challenges us to think in ways that empower us, rather than marginalise and weaken us.”
This terrestrial orientation of Papua New Guineans is natural.
Insulated as we are from others by the perceived vastness of our land expanse, Papua New Guinean exceptionalism can restrict a more holistic, and wholesome, knowledge of our Pacific neighbourhood.
I teach PNG students who initially struggle to name the countries and territories on the unlabelled map of the Pacific region. This is not surprising. To their own peril, even citizens of the United States are terrible with geography, given their own misconception of their place in the world.
Why learn and immerse yourself in the knowledge of other places and cultures, when you are the most powerful state in the world, a continent unto yourself?
The first point in Namorong’s commentary states: “why I think PNG is not a Pasifika nation is that of how we perceive our physical environment.”
Sure, the ocean is not a common identity marker for thousands of Papua New Guineans. The Bainings of East New Britain or Lelet plateau inhabitants of New Ireland don’t identify much with the ocean, even though they live in island provinces.
But is the Blue Pacific or Pasifika simply about the “physical environment”? Pacific Islanders use metaphors to communicate universal values and ideas.
The Blue Pacific is a metaphor, just like Hau’ofa’s “our sea of islands”. The Blue Pacific must be read together with the Boe Declaration of 2018 to understand the context in which it is used.
The Boe Declaration emphasises environmental and resource security, among other things. Surely, these are concerns Papua New Guineans share. The Blue Pacific represents values that PNG acknowledges in its national development blueprints.
Contrary to how we think of ourselves, PNG is a small state. In international diplomacy, PNG depends on multilateralism. PNG aligns with other small states to be effective. Together, small states are numerically formidable in forums such as the United Nations.
The Blue Pacific celebrates the idea of ‘collective diplomacy’. Collective diplomacy has been effective for small island developing states lobbying with other like-minded states.
Small states in the Pacific have success stories in their lobbying initiatives. PNG has been a partner and a beneficiary in these initiatives.
The high-water mark of collective diplomacy in the Pacific was from 1979-1990. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982, the 1985 South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty, and the banning of driftnet fishing of 1989, attest to the ‘power in numbers’ in international diplomacy.
Blue Pacific is a renewed effort in collective diplomacy, especially in light of the current geopolitical rivalry in the Pacific Islands and threats of environmental and resources insecurity.
PNG needs the Pasifika because in collective diplomacy, it is the ‘numbers game’ that matters. PNG does not have any hard power capabilities to compel big states to bend to its will. Hence, it must rely on collective action and the soft power effects of collective diplomacy.
Moreover, in the global community, Pasifika is a flexible term that is used in relation to non-Pacific Islanders. It is contextual and denotes certain levels of affinity, much like ‘wantok’. Fijians don’t speak Tok Pisin. But I run into a Fijian outside of the Pacific and he or she is a wantok, simply by virtue of being a Melanesian.
A Papua New Guinea, may not physically identify with the ocean, but the benefit of Pasifika is its expansiveness and inclusivity, just like the physical ocean. That is the whole logic of Hau’ofa’s “world enlargement” thesis.
Namorong also raises a question, “Is PNG’s economic future on land or in the ocean like other Pasifika nations?” The simple answer is yes.
Look at the evidence. PNG is the third largest country in the Pacific Islands in terms of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) - behind Kiribati and the Federated States of Micronesia.
If we are comparing PNG’s land mass (462,840 km²) with it is total EEZ (2,402,288 km²), PNG is a maritime state because it has more ocean space, than landmass. Indeed, our participation in multilateral initiatives like the Parties to the Nauru Agreement is testament to the resources of the ocean.
Our national security, commerce, and potentially, economic resources are dependent on the ocean. The Goroka resident, living thousands of kilometres away from the nearest coastline may not identify with the sea.
But it is through unrestricted access to important trade routes on the sea that merchandise produced in Asia or Europe reach the Goroka resident. The ocean is the lifeblood of PNG’s commercial relations with the outside world and a free and open sea is in PNG’s national interest.
In terms of resources, the finite land-based resources that are recklessly being extracted will all be exhausted. Where do we think people will start looking to extract resources?
Nautilus insists on mining the seafloor of the Bismarck because of the intellectual property rights from its extractive technology and scientific knowledge of the seabed. These will be highly demanded in the foreseeable future when resource scarcity on the land becomes apparent.
For all we know, the resource wars of the future may be over tracts of ocean floor rich in rare earth metals and other lucrative resources. In the areas of bio-prospecting, David Kenneth Leary identifies the untapped potential of genetic resources of the deep sea. He concludes, “Increasingly the race to the bottom of the deep sea for new developments in biotechnology is also becoming a race to be the first to the patent office”.
Finally, Namorong asserts: “whilst we will feel negative consequences of climate change, these may not erase our nation from the surface of the earth like they might other Pasifika states”.
Sure, PNG may not be erased off the surface of the earth. But parts of PNG’s sovereign space are already facing the prospects of going under water. This will generate its own social and cultural upheavals.
PNG has recorded some of world’s first cases of “climate refugees” (in the Bougainville atolls). Islands such as the Duke of Yorks are also densely populated and the easy way out is emigration.
The dynamics of land ownership and resettlement, as seen in the case of the Manam and Carteret resettlement programs, will come under increasing scrutiny as more low-lying islands of PNG are erased.
Social tensions relating to land resources and cultural assimilation will be the challenge for PNG.
PNG may not be erased off the face of the earth, but that’s no sure comfort at all. Some of its cultures, languages and peoples face extinction as a result of climate change and sea level rise.
Surely the Pasifika can teach us to be modest and frugal.
Patrick Kaiku teaches in the Political Science Department at the University of Papua New Guinea
The debate first appeared in the blog: Keith Jackson and friends:
PNG attitude at asopa.typepad.com
THE alignment of Step Up, Australia’s foreign policy direction in the Pacific and its New Zealand equivalent, Pacific Reset, was acknowledged by both Prime Ministers Jacinda Ardern and Scott Morrison at their annual meeting in Auckland on 22 February 2019. The foreign policies align at various levels. For the most critical of all alignments in support of the Pacific Islands Forum’s Blue Pacific, New Zealand’s Reset is leading the way. Australia’s Step Up needs to do just that, or a second stumble will frustrate its good intentions.
Paragraph 18 of the Prime Ministers’ Joint Statement affirms this ‘strong alignment’. This represents a lateral alignment. However, the foreign policy directions are also aligned vertically to their respective national security policy statements. Australia’s Step Up is aligned to ‘The Foreign Policy White Paper’, while New Zealand’s Pacific Reset is aligned to the ‘Strategic Defence Policy Statement 2018’.
Further alignment, essentially the two policies’ raison d’ȇtre, is represented by their orientation to support the countries, territories and institutions of the Pacific, home of the two developed countries.
Pacific Reset’s approach is premised on five principles, namely: (i) To demonstrate a depth of understanding of the Pacific shaped by academic, community, civil society, and private sector expertise that exists in NZ; (ii) To exhibit friendship, including honesty, empathy, trust and respect. This means staying in frequent touch at a political level and having frank and open conversation when necessary; (iii) To strive for solutions of mutual
benefit when developing domestic and foreign policy with impacts on the Pacific. For example, pension portability, criminal deportations, climate change, labour mobility and health and education policy; (iv) To achieve collective ambition with Pacific partners and external actors on a shared understanding of what Pacific Island Countries and NZ are trying to achieve together; and (v) To seek sustainability by focusing on the region’s long-term goals, to play NZ’s part in promoting greater autonomy and resilience among NZ’s Pacific friends through improved economic and social achievement.
Australia’s Step Up is a commitment to a range of measures to strengthen the country’s engagement to support a more resilient region, including: (i) stronger partnership for economic growth – e.g. supporting infrastructure, labour mobility, PACER Plus; (ii) stronger partnership for security – e.g. Pacific Security College, The Pacific Fusion Centre and a range of defence, cyber, maritime, health security services; and (iii) stronger relationships between people, ranging from training, church, sports, travel, research and friendship initiatives.
The vertical alignments of the two countries’ foreign policy direction to their respective defence policy statements speak forcefully of an additional alignment. The prominence of security considerations brought on by how best to counter threats, especially that represented by China’s concerted advance into the Pacific, populated both security statements.
Such a scenario brings both foreign policy statements aligned with those of the Indo-Pacific, which is a geostrategic construct of the Quadrilateral (Quad) countries. This has been imposed onto the whole of the Pacific Ocean, reaching across Asia, the Indian sub-continent, Indian Ocean and right up to the eastern coastline of the African continent. Australia is one of the four architects of the Indo-Pacific. The others are US, Japan and India.
Australia and New Zealand have had consultations on, inter alia, Indo-Pacific. Additionally, the Joint Statement referred to above certainly has language reminiscent of the values and principles of Indo-Pacific. Australia’s alignment to Indo-Pacific is thus by design. That of New Zealand, being supportive, can be said to be by association.
Indo-Pacific is an enigma. Promotional releases by its architects, especially Australia and US, are riddled with contradictions. Professor Rory Medcalf, Head of the Australian National University (ANU) National Security College, for example, said last May that “an Indo-Pacific policy is not, by definition, inherently anti-China.” However, subsequent Australian statements continued their anti-China sentiments. So much so that China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Lu Kang had to ask “Australia to drop (its) ‘Cold War attitude.’
Even NZ has been in on the act. The Fiji Times reported last October that “Japan and NZ will work more closely on Pacific issues to make progress in the region amidst China’s influence in the area.”
To date, there have not been any formal consultations with either the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders or the PIF Secretariat’s Secretary General on Indo-Pacific, as far as I know. Both the former Chair of PIF, Samoan Prime Minister Sailele Tuilaepa Malielegaoi, and Secretary General Dame Meg Taylor, especially the latter, have indicated the lack of any consultation in their recent public engagements. Australia, who should be spearheading such a consultation being a PIF member, has been particularly lax. However, it has not been lax when consulting other metropolitan countries, remote from our shores, like the UK and France on this very subject.
The other Quad members are all PIF dialogue partners. None, however, has brought up the issue during any of the dialogue sessions. Japan, however, took the opportunity of its 2018 PALM summit, last May, to inform PIC Leaders. Note that this was only for information, not for consultation.
Solomon Islands academic Dr. Tarcisius Kabutaulaka, lamented, firstly, “the portrayal of PICs as having no agency in the relations that they forge.” Secondly, “the treatment of PICs as pawns in the power play-off between the larger countries.”
Under its Blue Pacific narrative, PIF is not twiddling its thumbs and letting opportunities pass by. Indo-Pacific has raised a level of urgency in the region and PIF’s Blue Pacific narrative is responding by creating its own coping mechanisms.
Dame Meg Taylor spoke recently at ANU of how the Pacific can maintain and strengthen its own strategic autonomy in the context of Indo-Pacific. This requires that the Pacific’s own “priorities are neither undermined through the breaking of our Pacific solidarity, nor appropriated by the narratives of others not of our region.”
Last February, when Dame Meg spoke at the University of the South Pacific in Port Vila she advanced “The China Alternative: Changing Regional Order in the Pacific Islands.” Essentially, she advocated the framing of such an alternative in the context of the Blue Pacific in order to secure future viability, prosperity and wellbeing. Further, she stressed PIF’s stance on being ‘Friends to All’.
The scenarios invoked by Dame Meg above provide the environment in which both NZ’s Pacific Reset and Australia’s Step Up are aligning to the Blue Pacific narrative.
In the first scenario, note that the muchtouted Pacific solidarity is beginning to break at the seams through Australia’s continued reluctance to consult on Indo-Pacific. Dr. Tess Newton Cain, having analysed the inner working of Australia’s Step Up, has already posed the prospect of it heading for a ‘stumble’. A second stumble is beckoning if Australia continues its faux pas.
The second scenario above requires a ‘pro-China’ stance. If this nomenclature proves too polemical, then consider it as ‘pro-Blue Pacific’, in the name of PIF’s strategic autonomy approach.
Of the two regional neighbours, NZ is showing the way forward here. NZ has already signed onto China’s Belt and Road Initiative, one of the nine PIF members who have signed. As it turns out, NZ meets much of the requirements of its Pacific Reset’s five principles by signing.
Pacific Reset has firmly stepped up to the challenge.
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IN 2017 the Samoan Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi reintroduced the Criminal Libel Act to combat online anonymity and ‘ghost writers’ such as the infamous ‘Ole Palemia’. Reintroduction of the act, which had been abolished in 2013, was justified on the basis of protecting individuals from false and defamatory online allegations, and in the name of peace and harmony.
Then last year the Prime Minister threatened to shut down Facebook completely in Samoa because of what he termed as “gutless anonymous bloggers” and their continued allegations. This threat was criticised by Samoans, with groups such as the Samoa Alliance of Media Practitioners for Development (SAMPOD) warning against the implications this could have on free speech and democracy.
Targets of the PM’s anger include anonymous blogger/social media poster(s) ‘Ole Palemia’. A woman detained for allegedly knowing the identity of ‘Ole Palemia’ but who was then released due to insufficient evidence, has filed a lawsuit against Samoa’s Attorney General and police. Meanwhile in February this year, Australian- based Samoan Paulo Malele, who is also known online as ‘King Faipopo’, was arrested when he returned home for his mother’s funeral. He faces charges of making threats on social media against the Prime Minister. Malele has been released on bail and will reappear in court in March. Social media activity has risen dramatically
in the Pacific with increasing connectivity and affordability of internet access. This has been aided by the proliferation of handheld devices providing more convenient access to the Internet and specifically, to social networking sites. Facebook is the most prominent social networking site in Samoa. Facebook analytics data estimate around 100,000 to 150,000 active Facebook accounts in Samoa within a period of a month. Active Facebook accounts in Samoa are comparatively between 60-70 per cent of Samoa’s estimated population. These estimates are for account holders with listed ages of 18 toover 65. Over 70 per cent of these active Samoa based account users are between 18-34 years of age, the ages covered by Samoa’s youth policy. In other words, Samoa’s youth population constitutes the majority of Facebook and online users.
Of the estimated 100,000 to 150,000 active Facebook accounts, around 52 per cent are listed as accounts for women and 48 per cent are listed as accounts for men. Samoa is somewhat unusual in this regard as in Melanesia for instance, there are more Facebook accounts listed for men than women. Around 85 per cent of Samoa’s total active accounts are situated in the capital of Apia. Over 87 per cent of Facebook access in Samoa has been facilitated through mobile devices, especially through android devices, which indicates the increasing use and affordability of mobile internet deals and gadgets.
These figures ultimately indicate that the expansion of social media in Samoa, much like in the rest of the Pacific, is inevitable and brings with it a wide range of implications. There’s a tendency for Pacific governments and leaders to react aggressively to these implications, with threats of blocking social media or with laws that seek to criminalise certain online activity. The risk of taking these reactionary approaches is to compromise free speech and expression, while wrongful arrests or arrests without sufficient evidence exacerbates the impression of an Orwellian-like state.
Old guards of Pacific leadership are now forced to face the brutal realities of globalisation and the digital expression of their citizens’ frustrations and outbursts. How this is handled by Pacific governments will test how willing its leaders are to evolve with the changing times and dynamics brought on specifically by social media. The onslaught of digital technologies is going to force Pacific governments to either adopt or adapt to these changes. Reactionary and ill-thought regulations that risk-free speech and citizen engagement, reveal more about the insecurities of government leaders than any purported benefit to democracy or peace and harmony of a society.
IN a recent whirlwind visit to Samoa and Fiji, ADB President, Takehiko Nakao signed several important agreements, including one that scaled up the status of the Samoa office from an extended mission to a country office. He also met dignitaries, held media conferences in both capitals, visited ADB projects outside of Apia and visited Denarau and Natadola along Fiji’s Coral Coast, the sites of the ADB Board of Governors’ 52nd Annual Meeting in the first week of May later this year.
Nakao’s visit came in the aftermath of the various announcements of packages of (mainly infrastructure) funding from Australia. It was thus an excellent reminder to all concerned that when it comes to infrastructure funding and more, ADB has a long-proven record in the Pacific. The bank has been operating for more than half a century and is not likely to be giving up its prominent regional role to any Johnny-come-lately.
Nakao’s visit was strategic in its timing. Strategic in that the visit was aimed at consolidating ADB’s long-term position as a regional development bank that has ably proven its existence and services. The visits to Samoa and Fiji achieved their respective aims of re-enforcing the bank’s long-term aim.
The scaling up of the Apia office from an extended mission to a country office is indicative of what ADB is proposing to do with three other extended missions in Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu. Such upgrades reflect the volume and complexity of ADB’s lending businesses in those countries. For Samoa in particular, the up-scaling of its office has a symbolic significance: of all the 13 Pacific Island Countries ADB members, Samoa is the only foundation member with effect from 1966.
Fiji’s first ever hosting of an ADB Governors’ Annual Meeting in early May this year will be a historical first for Fiji, an ADB member since 1970. But it will also be strategic from ADB’s perspective. It is underpinning ADB’s geostrategic focus for the future to the Pacific Ocean that has been brought to greater prominence by the declaration of an over-arching Indo-Pacific by the Quad members, including Australia. Such prominence is of unprecedented interest in that the Pacific Islands Forum has responded with its Blue Pacific narrative to drive its ‘strategic autonomy’, its geostrategy in the context of a larger political construct that has totally encircled the region and beyond.
Once scaled up, the Samoa country office will bring the total of all country offices in the region to eleven. These will supplement the ADB operations carried out by the resident mission in Papua New Guinea, by the Pacific sub-regional office in Fiji and by the Pacific Liaison and Coordination office in Australia.
The media release for Nakao’s visit gave an insight of what ADB has in prospect for the immediate future. “Across the Pacific region, ADB is significantly scaling up financing to help developing member countries achieve sustainable economic and social development, while strengthening climate and disaster resilience. The volume of ADB active projects in the Pacific has doubled every five years since 2005 and exceeded $3 billion as of the end of 2018. The volume of active ADB’s projects in the Pacific is expected to surpass $4 billion by 2020.”
With that expansionary scenario, expectations of each member country will be consequently heightened and increased engagement with the Bank will ensue. If the ADB-Fiji partnership for immediate financing is any indication, it can be expected that for each member country, the volume and types of financing will increase, and sectorial coverage will widen, including lending to the private sector. Furthermore, all investment requirements for climate change and disaster-resilient infrastructure assets will be an essential element for any country member entitlement.
In such a situation, especially in the context of increased infrastructure funding from other sources, ADB’s strategic approach would, by necessity, tend toward increased concessionality. As it is, ADB is already in that business. It presupposes more. The bank’s Asian Development Fund already offers concessional loans and grants and technical assistance to lower-income developing member countries. Further, it enjoys the capacity to convert concessional loans to grants should economic and financial conditions demand such conversion. Samoa has already benefited from such concession in January 2018 following a series of environmental disasters that struck that country.
The quintessence of Nakao’s visit was what was left unsaid, but it raised serious questions about the coherence of our regional approach in the context of the Indo-Pacific, especially the various funding proposals that have emerged in the name of this imposed political construct.
Australia, one of the architects of Indo-Pacific, joined Japan and USA at the APEC meeting in Port Moresby last November to announce their ‘Trilateral Partnership for Infrastructure Investment for the Indo-Pacific.’ Prime Minister Morrison did clarify that financing from this source is essentially loans that are bankable. India, a fellow Quad member, was left out of the Trilateral Partnership.
Not long after that, Prime Minister Morrison announced a further A$3 billion (US$2.12 billion) Pacific Infrastructure Bank, comprising A$2 billion financial facility: Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific (AIFFP) - for loans and grants for transport, telecommunications, energy and water projects. The balance of A$1 billion will be disbursed through the Export Finance Corporation (EFIC), to encourage more Australian firms to invest in the Pacific.
This funding is aimed at countering China’s influence in the southwest Pacific, and there’s the rub!
Statements from both Australia and USA are mixed: anti-China sentiments as against those infused with a veil of friendly rivalry, competition, ‘partnership rather than confrontation.’ The inconsistencies are particularly worrisome. On balance, when these statements are viewed against specific actions to counter China, there are reasons for pessimism about the prospects of Indo-Pacific.
Nakao’s interest would have been piqued by the paradoxes relating to Indo-Pacific and how an ADB member country was faring in the cross-fire that has ensued.
China joined the ADB in 1986. It created its own Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in January 2016. Prior to that in 2013, China initiated its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). To date, nine Pacific Islands Forum members have signed onto the BRI. The latest report from the Cook Islands, one of the signatory-PIF members, revealed a statement in a “US intelligence report accusing China of currying favour with Pacific countries through bribery and infrastructure investments.” The Cook Islands Deputy Prime Minister, Mark Brown, reaffirmed the utility of its BRI projects and underscored that these projects were not able to be financed by traditional development partners.
President Nakao is back in Manila. His unsaid message remains loud and clear, the ADB is the region’s top development bank. It can accommodate all our needs, notwithstanding those funds created specifically for climate change activities and for which ADB will mobilis e co-financing. There is no need for more. For the Indo-Pacific, ADB remains relevant. It remains committed to the region and stands ready to work with all its 15 Forum members in the execution of the region’s Blue Pacific narrative that seeks strategic autonomy in the context of a region that is becoming complex and geopolitically-charged.