Oct 23, 2018 Last Updated 8:13 AM, Oct 23, 2018

The acquisition of land on a large scale by ‘new’ Chinese in the Pacific region could potentially be a trigger for instability in the future, a new report has suggested.

Authored by Dr. Stewart Firth, a Research Fellow at the Australia National University’s Department of Pacific Affairs, College of Asia and the Pacific, the report is titled: ‘Instability in the Pacific Islands: A Status Report’ and was released in June by Lowly Institute, a Sydney-based independent policy think tank.

Apart from providing a general overview on the current socio-economic and political status in Pacific Island countries, the report dwelled specifically on six key areas said to have the potency for instability in the future.

One of these key areas is immigration, which singularly focused on the new wave of Chinese influx into the region and why this trend could be a ticking time bomb for social instability in this part of the world.

“For the most part, the Pacific Islands are countries of emigration rather than immigration. Chinese migrants are the exception, making China the only development partner whose citizens migrate to the Pacific Islands region,” the report noted.

Making the distinction between ‘old Chinese’ in the region – these are Chinese descendant Pacific Islanders whose ancestors arrived a century or more ago – and ‘new Chinese,’ who are “‘sojourners’ with no intention of staying or becoming citizens,” the report said these ‘new Chinese’ typically use Pacific Islands as a foothold for entry into the more developed countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

Among this new group are the socalled ‘new entrepreneurial migrants’ who “typically arrive on tourist visas, pay bribes to immigration officials, or walk off fishing boats at Pacific ports.” 

“Most are poorly educated, have no professional or trade qualifications, and could not legally enter Pacific Island countries. They start small trading concerns, investing in bakeries, low-end restaurants and clothing stores – trading activities usually reserved for Pacific Islanders.

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As New Caledonia moves closer to a referendum on self-determination on 4 November, Kanak leader Daniel Goa has been touring the Pacific, seeking regional support to monitor the decolonisation process.

At the end of a week-long visit to Australia in July, Goa told Islands Business: “We look to Australia, New Zealand, our Melanesian brothers who have always supported us, but also the Micronesian countries and the Polynesian countries to support us at this crucial time.”

The referendum on self-determination comes at the end of a twenty-year transition established by the Noumea Accord, signed in May 1998 by the French State, New Caledonia’s independence movement Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste  (FLNKS) and leaders of political parties opposed to independence.

Since 2012, Daniel Goa has served as president of Union Calédonienne, the largest party in the four-member FLNKS coalition.

At the FLNKS Congress last February, he was chosen as official spokesperson for the independence movement in the lead up to November’s referendum.

During his visit to Australia, Goa met with Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop, Minister for International Development and the Pacific Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and DFAT officials.

He also met High Commissioners of the four independent Melanesian nations, to discuss the role of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) in the lead up to the referendum.

The delegation also met a range of trade union, university and community representatives, with the FLNKS spokesperson presenting a keynote speech at the Lowy Institute in Sydney.

“The message was the same at all of our meetings,” Goa told Islands Business.

“After 20 years of the Noumea Accord, we have made much progress with economic re-balancing, the creation of new political institutions and addressing the rights of the Kanak people. But we are at a crucial time, with the referendum in November.

“We are looking to our neighbours to support us as we take the next step, to vote Yes or No on the transfer of the sovereign powers that would make us an independent nation. For the FLNKS, we are hoping for a Yes, so we can be an independent state to play our role in the concert of independent nations of the Pacific, at a time of major change in our region.”

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Nauru’s legal wrangle

A huge legal battle looms in Nauru over the trial of 19 people some of whom former opposition parliamentarians with the Baron Waqa Government opting to appeal its Supreme Court ruling that the republic should foot the legal bill of the defendants.

In his landmark judgement on 21 June this year, Supreme Court Judge Geoff Muecke of Australia ordered the Waqa Government to pay AU$224,021 (USD165,880) towards the expenses of the four Australian-based lawyers of the 19 defendants. This money was to be paid to the Supreme Court of Nauru by 5pm on Friday, 29 June.

Nothing was paid by deadline however with the government of Nauru exercising its right to appeal the Supreme Court’s decision. This means that the appeal would have to be heard by the Court of Appeal of Nauru, a court that currently does not exist.

In a surprise move earlier in the year, and following a secret pact with the government of Australia, the Nauru Government had announced that it would no longer uses the Supreme Court of Australia as its Appeals Court. It would establish its own, Nauru added.

A closer reading of Judge Muecke’s ruling reveals that the jurist had anticipated the non-payment of the legal fees. Order number 3 in his ruling reads:

“I order that the Republic of Nauru pay into the Supreme Court of Nauru the sum of $224,021.90, or such other sum as may be agreed between the DPP and the defendants’ Australian legal team, by 5pm Friday 29 June 2018, for and on behalf of the legal fees and disbursements of the defendants’ Australian legal team for the trial in this matter, and for some fees and disbursements already incurred.

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DOCTOR Manu Tupou-Roosen, Director General-designate of the Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency plans to bring to the role a strong commitment to empower the Pacific people through greater cooperation.

And this she believes is only possible through effective communication and collaboration between the FFA Secretariat based in Honiara, Solomon Islands with members and stakeholders of the regional body mandated with assisting member nations manage their offshore fisheries better.

“Our mission is clear - to maximise the economic and social benefits of our Pacific people through the sustainable use of our offshore fisheries resources,” Dr Tupou-Roosen wrote in an interview conducted via electronic mail.

“Our platform to deliver on that mission is also clear - cooperation. This is the cornerstone of our success as a region. It is our Pacific Way and it is the only way that we can ensure a safe, stable and prosperous region for our people. My priorities will be empowerment of our people, effective communication and effective collaboration between the FFA Secretariat, members and all stakeholders. These tools are critical to successful cooperation in order for our Pacific people to prosper.

“Using our skills and resources to continue strengthening our tools to combat IUU [Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated] fishing as well as to enhance social benefits will also be top of mind for me in this role.

“I will be actively reaching out to all members and all stakeholders. I am committed to listening. I am committed to working closely with the Deputy DirectorGeneral Matt Hooper, our staff and our members, and all of our partners such as the PNA Office, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and SPC-FAME Division, to embrace a wide range of views, to ensure that the FFA is as effective as possible in delivering on its mission.”

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FLNKS Congress calls for “full sovereignty”

AS New Caledonia’s FLNKS independence movement met in congress last month near the northern town of Poum, the theme highlighted the importance of the coming year: “Yet Tim Men Ta Yabwat” (At the dawn of a new day). After decades of campaigning, a decision on New Caledonia’s political status is looming.

The exact date is still to be announced, but New Caledonia’s referendum on self-determination must be held before the end of the year, after a 20-year transition established by the 1998 Noumea Accord. Opponents of independence believe that they will win the vote and retain their current status within the French Republic. After generations of settlement and migration, the indigenous Kanak people are a minority in their own country, so mobilising independence supporters in the lead up to the referendum is all the more important. The 36th Congress of the Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS) met at Arama on 3-4 February.

The meeting provided a crucial opportunity for delegates and activists to build common understanding on issues that have long been debated within the broad independence coalition. For many years, there have been internal tensions over leadership, how to negotiate with conservative pro-French parties and the best path for a transition to a new political status. But with only months remaining until the referendum, there is a need to promote unity amongst the four political parties that comprise the FLNKS: Union Calédonienne (UC); Parti de Libération Kanak (Palika); Rassemblement Démocratique Océanien (RDO); and Union Progressiste Mélanésien (UPM). The first President of the FLNKS, JeanMarie Tjibaou, was assassinated in 1989 and the position was later filled by Palika’s Paul Neaoutyine and UC’s Roch Wamytan. But since 2001, the independence coalition has been unable to agree on a President.

To avoid potentially divisive debates over leadership, the Arama Congress decided to leave the position vacant and instead appointed UC President Daniel Goa as its official spokesperson within New Caledonia, the region and internationally. Debating the path forward As the largest and oldest member of the independence movement, UC has long called for the adoption of full, sovereign political independence.

The other FLNKS members have been more open to variations of political status. Palika President Paul Neaoutyine has declared his party is open to discussing “l’indépendance avec partenariat” (independence with partnership), which would establish New Caledonia as an independent nation but with an ongoing relationship with France. Despite these differences, the FLNKS congress “reaffirmed its objective to have the country accede to full sovereignty in the referendum scheduled for this year 2018.”

If New Caledonia’s Congress cannot agree on a date for the referendum by May this year, the French State must hold the referendum at least six months before next Congressional elections in May 2019. For this reason, everyone is gearing up for a referendum in late October or November, preparing for a public campaign in the months before the vote. One of the central concerns for independence supporters has been to meet the legal requirement that potential referendum voters must be registered on the general electoral roll.

The Congress called on independence activists appointed to the Special Administrative Committees which register voters “to maintain the greatest possible vigilance during the forthcoming work to update the special lists and especially those for the referendum.” The United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation is expected to send a mission to New Caledonia this month, to monitor the work of these Special Administrative Committees, as they finalise the voting roll that will be released publically in August. The FLNKS Congress reaffirmed its call for automatic registration of all indigenous Kanaks of voting age, echoing a central concern of the Rassemblement des indépendantistes et nationalistes (RIN).

The RIN is a loose network outside the FLNKS that includes more radical proindependence groups like the Parti Travailliste (PT), Dynamique Unitaire Sud (DUS), the USTKE trade union confederation and individual activists. UC President Daniel Goa has floated the idea of re-incorporating all pro-independence forces - including political parties, trade unions and churches - within the FLNKS. However this idea was not accepted by Palika and UPM at the Arama congress. Instead, the congress resolution called on “independence supporters, progressives and nationalists to support the planned accession to full sovereignty and to re-join the structures created by the FLNKS to undertake a campaign at local level.”

This aims to reinforce the “Comités Nationalistes et Citoyens” (CNC), a network of local action groups in tribes and towns across the country. The CNC were created in 2016 as a structure for independence supporters to campaign together at the grassroots, regardless of political affiliation. Young people share their vision This spirit of cooperation was evident amongst young Kanaks at the Arama meeting. A key feature of the congress was the strong presence and coordination of young people, who have not been involved in longstanding political jousting amongst their elders, often dating back to the 1970s. Each of the FLNKS member parties has a separate youth wing, but younger delegates caucused together and issued a joint statement from the congress.

The youth declaration called for “a sovereign Kanaky-New-Caledonia, as a multicultural, secular, democratic and united republic.” The united youth network will organise a series of cultural and sporting events during 2018, so that “young New Caledonians, whoever they may be, can join the movement for national unity so our country can access full sovereignty.” New Caledonian leaders across the political spectrum will meet with French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and other representatives in March for the next Committee of Signatories to the Noumea Accord.

This meeting, one of the last before the referendum, will address outstanding issues over the referendum process, as well as the transfer of the remaining “Article 27” powers from Paris to Noumea (including control of the university, TV and radio, as well as the ADRAF land reform agency currently managed by the French State). To continue the momentum towards the vote, the FLNKS will hold a national convention in April.

This meeting will see the formal launch of the independence movement’s campaign, in the lead up to a scheduled visit by French President Emmanuel Macron. Since last year, the FLNKS has been developing a proposal for “a sovereign Kanaky-New-Caledonia,” with ideas for economic, political and cultural reform that will be the centrepiece of the referendum campaign. Beyond its mobilisation on the ground, the FLNKS congress resolutions highlighted the importance of international solidarity, including the “historic and ongoing support of the Melanesian Spearhead Group,” support from the Non-Aligned Movement as well as churches, NGOs and trade unions (a notable omission from the list is the Pacific Islands Forum, given the rapprochement between France and key Forum member states like Australia). To mobilise international support during 2018, the FLNKS will soon name overseas representatives as official spokespeople in Europe and the Pacific islands.

The movement will also send a team to build support for independence and sovereignty in French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna (key constituencies, given the large Tahitian and Wallisian populations living in New Caledonia). Soon after the congress, FLNKS delegates travelled to Port Moresby for the MSG summit. As a signal to the host government, the Arama congress “reaffirmed its unshakeable support for the United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP) in its combat for human rights and the right to self-determination in West Papua.” The FLNKS congress also resolved to support nationalist movements in Corsica, Catalonia and French Polynesia – signalling their support for allies in the debate over autonomy, decentralisation and independence that is raging around the globe, from Spain to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, from old Caledonia to New Caledonia.

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