Clean up efforts are already underway in Vanuatu and Fiji, parts of which were hit by Cyclone Harold this week.
In Vanuatu the first reports have emerged of the category-five storm's destruction in Vanuatu.
Communication lines have been restored to the hardest-hit regions of Vanuatu on Wednesday, two days after Cyclone Harold made landfall.
The islands of Espiritu Santo, Malo and Pentecost were blasted by torrential rain and winds above 235km/h in the storm, which travelled directly over Luganville, the country's second biggest settlement.
Amid the devastation, there are no reports of loss of life.
Locals and relief agencies will now begin a damage assessment and provision of immediate needs.
Save The Children country director Luke Ebbs, based in Port Vila, said the "scale of damage is immense".
“Water tanks knocked over, boats blown out of the water, trees stripped of their leaves and lots of roofs blown off,” he said.
“Right now there are very pressing needs for temporary shelter, food, water and basic hygiene items like soap, buckets and water containers.
“Many families we spoke to have lost almost everything, and they urgently need humanitarian assistance.”
New Zealand has sent a surveillance plane to Vanuatu to help with this task and pledged an initial NZ$500,000 (US$300,000) towards relief.
Foreign Minister Winston Peters said Harold had “caused major damage to homes, public buildings, infrastructure, telecommunications networks and crops”.
The storm formed near the Solomon Islands, where 27 people were reportedly thrown overboard and killed when a packed ferry headed off into dicey waters.
Writing on the DevPolicy blog today, Dr Transform Aquora says: “The ship was transporting Honiara residents seeking refuge from COVID-19 (at the advice of government) in the village at West Are Are, one of the Districts in Malaita Province. The casualties include the wife, three sons, and brother of a Deputy Principal of one of Solomon Islands’ national secondary schools. This is deeply shocking and sad for the country. Those who lost their life were innocent Solomon Islanders simply escaping the likely breakout of COVID-19 in Honiara.”
In Fiji, the director of the National Management Office (NDMO), Vasiti Soko, says “We’ve seen reports of injuries.
“As to the number, as well as the intensity, of the injuries, that’s yet to be ascertained.”
There were no immediate reports of deaths, but about 10 houses in Suva were reported destroyed, Soko added.
There have been no cases of coronavirus reported in the Pacific Islands region, although Australia and New Zealand have reported cases, and in the case of Australia, one death.
However the Pacific region has responded with a series of travel advisories and requirements.
These are constantly being updated, but here is the most recent series of requirements, as of March 2.
Federated States of Micronesia
Nauru has announced entry restrictions for any travellers who have travelled from or through China in the 21 days prior to traveling to Nauru. The same restriction applies to travel from or through areas with a “publicly stated outbreak” or other areas of outbreak concern specified by the Nauru Ministry of Health and Medical Services.
Wallis and Futuna
Late last month, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare praised Tourism Solomons for its “relentless effort” to consistently grow visitor arrivals.
PM Sogavare also expressed optimism about the opportunities the relationship with China will bring to the sector: “It is crucial that development and business opportunities with China in the tourism sector are strategically embraced," he told industry leaders.
Josefa Tuamoto, who is originally from Fiji, is the CEO at Tourism Solomons. He says it’s a great place to work, and there is good scope for growth if some of the fundamentals are set right.
Islands Business: You’ve been with Tourism Solomons for a while now. What changes have you seen during your time in the role of CEO?
Josefa Tuamoto: I’ve seen a lot of changes, particularly infrastructure changes. I was here when they started with the port, they’ve finished the port with the Japanese. The roads now are much better than when I first came. I think the next phase is to continue that further.
From a tourism perspective, a lot of work Tourism Solomons has done is to basically tell the story to government. Why it [tourism] is important. When you see the economics of the country, logging is basically slowing down. So we’ve had to look at other opportunities and tourism presents one of those.
[In the Solomons] it’s not your normal four star, five star hotels [that dominate], it’s the small ones which I think is quite unique. From the tourism side we’ve also seen a lot of changes within the industry, a lot of people want to engage with us more try to understand a lot of things that we do, our role was also to escalate Tourism Solomons so they see the value. That was one of the big jobs. I think now we have proven that we are here for the long term, because the economy needs tourism.
There is still a long way to build human capital.
I don’t think we will ever reach that point where we will say we are happy. There is always room to improve. And also to move out to the provinces too. When we launched our brand one of the things we wanted to do was reach out to the provinces. We had a presentation to cabinet, they endorsed that.
The DNA for the destination is the culture. Here there are so many cultures, within a province there is so much and [it’s] so authentic. When I say authentic, I mean it.
The other things is wreck diving is quite huge, very, very strong.
Also the sense of adventure. This is a destination where you have to want to come. You can’t just rock in. I think you’ll be in awe of a lot of things, the culture, particularly if you go to the provinces, it’s so different.
IB: Where are you seeing growth?
Tuamoto: To a certain extent our growth is managed growth. It’s not just coming and building hotels. The country is aware of that- that you can’t just start building hotels and expect people to come. People have to come for a reason so that they can enjoy their time.
Our visitors from Australia, New Zealand and the US are coming up.
IB: Is there opportunity in the MICE (meeting, incentives, convention and events) market?
Tuamoto: The meeting and incentive market is mainly centred on Honiara because we don’t have the facilities outside – Mendana and Heritage Park are the two main places. We’ve been blessed because there are so many NGOs and development partners that come and hold their conferences here and it has helped us. Essentially because our business traffic is quite high, the leisure market is only about 30 percent and our goal is to change that to about 50 percent or even more. That will only happen if we have enough rooms at a reasonable rate.
Prices are a big issue. If you want to bring a family, there’s flights and accommodation. That will get into your pockets when you can go to Fiji or Samoa, Tonga or Vanuatu for half the price.
IB: Is there much packaging of holidays and experiences done?
Tuamoto: Very few [packages are created]. We only about seven wholesalers. We’d like to see more wholesale packaging but that will only be driven by the product. The product has to be right for them to sell.
I think in terms of activities they are ok. There are WW2 dives, those kinds of things. And also we have some niche wholesalers who come. They are focussed on certain products such as birdwatching. They don’t do anything else but birdwatching. We also have one wholesaler that specifically does fishing and surfing.
IB: What other niches are there?
Tuamoto: We are the niche. (laughs) Because our arrivals is 30,000 and that’s like a day in Fiji. Our core is dive, then we have birdwatching, fishing, trekking.
IB: What opportunities does the diplomatic switch to China present?
Tuamoto: The main issue here is inventory. We don’t have sufficient inventory. Hopefully with China coming in they might consider investing in tourism, that would be a big thing for us apart from just the sheer numbers in terms of marketing. That would open up a lot of things. We don’t have ADS which is full destination status as yet, so who knows, the government might decide to go with it, and it might open up a lot of avenues for us too.
In Fiji when I was there, we didn’t have it, so we worked with the ministry of tourism and civil aviation. Sometimes you actually don’t need it, but it is more politically right to seek it.
As we enter not only a new year but a new decade, there is much to anticipate in the Pacific islands region.
Elections and domestic politics
A number of countries in the region will have elections during 2020: Kiribati, Niue, Palau and Vanuatu. The lingering discontent in Kiribati surrounding last year's switch in diplomatic relations from Taiwan to China may have an adverse impact on the incumbent government. In Vanuatu, Prime Minister Charlot Salwai Tabismasmas can point to having served a full parliamentary term as Prime Minister as a reason why he should remain in the top job but that may not be enough. The current premier of Niue, Sir Toke Talagi, has been suffering from ill health recently casting doubt on whether he will contest this year. Meanwhile, there have been calls for more young people to stand for parliament in that country.
Elsewhere in the region, some of what happened on the political scene in 2019 will continue to play out. In Marshall Islands, the Niitjela (Parliament) met last week and elected David Kabua as the new President further to last year's elections. In the immediate aftermath of Solomon Islands' switch from Taiwan to China last year there were indications that Prime Minister Sogavare might face a motion of no confidence. Whilst that did not eventuate in 2019, it remains on the cards for this year. In Papua New Guinea, this year will be crunch time for the Marape/Stephens government. The grace period that protects them from a challenge by way of a motion of no confidence comes to an end in late 2020 and there are already whispers of this paving a comeback for Peter O'Neill who was ousted from the PM's seat in the middle of last year.
There will also be elections in New Zealand, which will be closely watched given that country's closeness to the Pacific islands region, and the centrality of the Pacific Reset to the Ardern/Peters government's policy platform. The incumbent, Jacinda Ardern, was named Islands Business' 'Pacific Person of the Year' for 2019.
There are also significant elections taking place at sub-national level. In Vanuatu, the SANMA provincial elections taking place this month will be closely watched to see if they cast any light on what we can expect in the general elections in March. In Bougainville, there will be elections for President and government of the autonomous region. These elections will be heavily influenced by the results of last year's referendum on independence. However, there is currently some debate as to whether constitutional arrangements should be modified to allow the current President, John Momis, to run for another term. If this is what is to happen, the elections may need to be delayed.
The last couple of years has seen a proliferation of policies, programs and photo opportunities as established and emerging Pacific partners seek to (re)establish their influence in the region. This is expected to continue through 2020, including by way of high- level visits to the region. For example, President Emmanuel Macron will visit French Polynesia in April. This is significant given France's displeasure at the territory having been reinscribed onto the UN's Decolonisation List.
The impacts of Solomon Islands and Kiribati switching their diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to the People's Republic of China will continue to be felt during 2020. We have already seen some developments with the visit of President Maamau of Kiribati to Beijing where he met with President Xi Jinping and signed up to the Belt and Road Initiative. Whilst the Taiwanese government has expressed confidence of the continuing relationship with Marshall Islands, Taipei will be watching President Kabua's early movements closely and has already announced a high-level visit to Majuro to help keep this relationship on track. Taiwan now has four allies in the region (Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau and Tuvalu) and will continue to expend diplomatic and political capital to avoid losing any of them during 2020.
Independence and self-determination
Work will begin on the negotiations between the Bougainville and Papua New Guinea governments further to the result of last year's referendum which saw 97.7% of those who voted opt for independence. This will have to be ratified by the Parliament of PNG, under the terms of the Bougainville Peace Agreement. Positions on the future of Bougainville vary among PNG parliamentarians, including PM Marape's suggestion of 'economic independence'. Moreover, that agreement does not provide a timeline for how long this process should take. There will need to be a lot of work done around managing community expectations and keeping the flow of information moving in order to avoid frustration.
In New Caledonia, the second of a possible three referendums on independence from France will be held on 6 September. In 2018, the result was much closer than many had predicted with 43.6% voting in favour of independence, exceeding the 30% that some had been predicting.
After some considerable delay, the people of Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia will hold an independence referendum in March.
The question of self-determination for West Papua and addressing issues of alleged human rights abuses by the Indonesian state will loom large during 2020, particularly during the meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum leaders in Vanuatu. At last year's meeting of Pacific Islands Forum leaders Vanuatu lobbied successfully for the issue of West Papua to be given more prominence in the final communiqué than had been the case in the preceding couple of years. This includes a strong signal from leaders that they expect the government of Indonesia to facilitate a visit to the region by Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner
for Human Rights, in order for her office to report to leaders when they meet this year in Port Vila.
Meanwhile, in a region dominated by relatively young countries, Fiji will mark its 50th anniversary of becoming independent this year and Vanuatu its 40th.
We have already seen a change of leadership at the oldest of the region's peak bodies, the Pacific Community (SPC). Dr Colin Tukuitonga was replaced as Director-General by Dr Stuart Minchin late last year. The meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum leaders to be held in Vanuatu in August will be Dame Meg Taylor's last as Secretary-General. By convention, it is Micronesia's turn to nominate the person to take on this position. The front runner is Gerald Zackios, the current ambassador of Marshall Islands to the United States.
There will be ongoing work to further develop and embed the 'Blue Pacific' as a unifying narrative that speaks to the needs and aspirations of all members. However, this will take place in a context where there are multiple pressures on national governments, in domestic as well as foreign policy spheres. Divergences of approach when it comes to climate policy will continue to be a significant fault line at the meeting of PIF leaders. Vanuatu, the 2020 host, has already made it clear that the primary focus for that meeting will be climate change.
This item was first published on the DevPolicy blog of the Development Policy Centre, Australian National University
(Pacnews) The Solomon Islands Government last night cut off the nation’s diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
This came after Cabinet endorsed a Caucus resolution to sever the 36-year-old relationship.
The decision came just hours after Taiwan’s deputy Foreign Affairs minister Dr Sze-chien Hsu landed in Honiara in a last-ditch effort to save the ties.
Hsu was greeted at the Honiara International Airport by women’s groups, a church group, and parents of students currently studying in Taiwan.
He also announced during a press conference new funding package for Solomon Islands.
But the Sogavare Government has already made up its mind.
After Caucus voted in the resolution to switch ties in the afternoon, cabinet wasted no time to endorse it.
Government insiders said Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who leaves for the United Nations General Assembly in New York this weekend, will announce the decision when he addresses the UN.
No statement was issued on the decision last night.
Taiwan reacted to the decision by condemning it, adding “it’s extremely regrettable”.
At the same time, Taipei declared the termination of its diplomatic relations with Solomon Islands with immediate effect, the end of all bilateral cooperative projects, as well as the recall of the staff of its Embassy, technical mission, and medical mission stationed in Solomon Islands.
“The Taiwan government also demands that Solomon Islands immediately recall its government personnel from Taiwan,” a statement Taiwan’s Foreign Affairs ministry issued, said.
It’s also expected that 125 Solomon Islanders currently studying in Taiwan under fully funded Taiwanese scholarships will be sent back home, according to Taiwanese officials.
Some have just left last month.
“Taiwan believes that the majority of the Solomon Islanders will find the decision unacceptable since it completely lacks credibility.”
Taipei also hits out at Beijing.
“The government of China has once again resorted to dollar diplomacy and false promises of large amounts of foreign assistance to buy off a small number of politicians, so as to ensure that the government of Solomon Islands adopted a resolution to terminate relations with Taiwan before China’s National Day on 01 October.
“Beijing’s purpose is to diminish Taiwan’s international presence, hurt the Taiwanese people, and gradually suppress and eliminate Taiwan’s sovereignty.
“It is absolutely evident that China, through this case, deliberately seeks to influence Taiwan’s upcoming presidential and legislative elections.
“The government strongly condemns China’s attempts to suppress Taiwan, and calls on the people of Taiwan to continue to uphold our national sovereignty, champion the principles of freedom and democracy, reach out to the international community, and serve as a force for good in the world.
“Taiwan has never capitulated under any setback in the international arena.
“Nor has it ever been defeated by any attempt at suppression.
“The more challenges Taiwan has faced, the more determined it has become.
“Taiwan has shown the international community that, faced with the expansionism of authoritarian regimes, will stand firm on the frontlines of democracy and remain staunchly committed to serving as an example to the world.
“The government of Taiwan solemnly urges the international community to recognise China’s continued efforts to expand its authoritarianism, set debt traps for other countries, and fulfil its strategic goals and gain influence in the Indo-Pacific region through a wide array of aggressive actions.
“Free and democratic countries have no alternative but to unite together to maintain a free, open, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific, and jointly defend the shared values of democracy and human rights.”....PACNEWS