Apr 10, 2021 Last Updated 4:12 AM, Apr 8, 2021

January (9)

By New Year’s Day, Australia was on fire. There were more than 200 fires burning across the country, from Western Australia to the east coast states of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

Since the start of the fire season, more than ten million hectares of land have been burnt out – an area nearly six times the size of Fiji or New Caledonia.

And from coffee sales to alumni dinners, Pacific islanders have rallied to the assistance of their Australian ‘vuvale’ affected by the bushfires. PNG and Fiji are also sending soldiers to work with the Australian Defence Force on the ground.

The fundraising efforts, from small community-driven initiatives to larger government-coordinated programs, prompted Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to acknowledge the “the loving response from our Pacific family”.

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The year ahead

Tourism, fish will be star performers

Tourism and fish revenues will continue to be key drivers in the performance of the Pacific Island economies in 2020, the World Bank says, although it has urged island leaders not to throw caution into the wind over the matter of balancing national debts versus investment in infrastructure.

And while higher oil prices benefit oil-exporting countries like Papua New Guinea and Timor Leste, the bank is warning of immediate downside risks brought about the region’s vulnerability to climate change.

Already, Fiji, Tonga and Tuvalu have been impacted by one or two tropical storms just two weeks into the new year.

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In one short week in Solomon Islands, I snorkelled remarkably fish-rich reefs, visited a rustic, fascinating and deserted-but-for-me war museum, meandered through food markets, ate leaves smothered in ngali nuts straight from the fire on an atoll beach, talked to local artists about their work, and spent hours staring out to sea watching the colour of the water change and squalls race across the horizon.

I was one of just 30,000 or so people who visited Solomon Islands last year. In terms of holiday visitors, the Solomon Islands receives less than one percent of the Pacific market share.

The country aims to do better.

The ambitious 2015-2019 National Tourism Development Strategy aimed to see tourism generate  over SI$700 million for the economy (or 7 percent of national GDP), increase the number of those employed in the workforce through tourism to 30,000 and increase the total number of arrivals to 32,500 (equating to 9.2 percent growth per annum)  amongst other metrics. The final analysis is not yet in, but there is a sense there is still a way to go. Most of the country’s visitors come from Australia, with smaller numbers coming from Asia, New Zealand, the US, Papua New Guinea, and, like me, from other Pacific Island nations.

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Kiribati faces uncertain times ahead as the Government rules with a minority support in parliament for the first time in the history of the country, the coalition Opposition goes to court twice against the Speaker of Parliament, legislators engage in heated debates in parliament and both sides of the house lock horns over claims of the people’s support that have catapulted the atoll republic headlong into a whirlpool of uncertainties and uneasiness as the general election draws near.

The divisive issue was initially fallout from the Government’s sudden switch from support for Taiwan to mainland China on September 20 last year. It came to a heated head during parliamentary debate over the Government budget presented by Vice President and Finance Minister Dr. Teuea Toatu in November. The budget was defeated 26 against, 18 for and 1 abstaining when some Government backbenchers and one senior Minister crossed the floor, justifying their move by claiming that the Government’s explanations for switching loyalties were, at best, flimsy.

In explaining the Taiwan-to-China switch in a nation-wide broadcast on the Government-sponsored Radio Kiribati, Vice President Dr. Toatu gave three reasons: Taiwan’s refusal of the country’s requests for increases in aid, bypassing Kiribati in the Pacific high-level visits by Taiwan and failure to honour agreements.

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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.


When Islands Business was considering our Pacific Person of the Year in December, we looked across Pacific communities and sectors.

In sports, there was one clear standout, young weightlifting star, Eileen Cikamatana.

The Fijian left her country of birth last year to make a new home in Australia.

Cikamatana has been granted Australian citizenship and has swapped her light blue passport for the navy Australian one.

She is one of the best female weightlifters to ever come out of Fiji. Under the watchful eye of her Australian coach and trainer Paul Coffa, she was set to be one of Fiji’s sporting superstars.

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Sketches of Fiji by high-profile Pacific aviator Andrew Drysdale harks back to a different time, when ‘Travelling Ground Engineers’ carried their own toolboxes and played the role of hostess, dispensing soup and sandwiches when planes were airborne, then checking the engines, supervise refuelling and do the engineering walk-around inspection on landing.

Drysdale is now Executive Director of Mentor Aviation Services, consulting to the aviation industry throughout the Asia/Pacific region. But as he describes in his memoir, he rose through the ranks from Fiji’s first aircraft engineering apprentice to CEO of Air Pacific (now Fiji Airways), with a detour as Chief Executive of Blue Lagoon Cruises along the way.

Drysdale grew to be a skilled PR operator as CEO, and his book gives the back-story of many of the industrial relations and business stories that dominated local media during his tenure.

One of the most interesting passages in Sketches of Fiji deals with his brief period as a unionist. He describes this time as an “angry young man” as being sparked by unequal treatment of local and expatriate workers, and an arbitrary decision to increase working hours and introduce Saturday work.

As a result Drysdale helped form the Fiji Aviation Workers Association, writing the constitution and first log of claims at his kitchen table. However he writes that the attitude of union leaders prompted him to distance himself from organised labour activities, and that he was saddened to see these attitudes persist when he returned to the airline as CEO, claiming: “They were past masters at building aspirations amongst their members and using this to create a synthetic anger based on greed.”

Drysdale’s account of his time at Blue Lagoon, is equally illuminating, as he joined when it was very much a family-run company. In these chapters, as with much of his book, he is generous and diligent about naming and recognising the many local travel and tourism colleagues who earned his respect and trust over the years. He also makes some interesting observations about the distribution of income and payments to villages and communities visited in the early days of Fiji’s tourism industry, and the difference strong village leadership made to how funds were spent.

Drysdale took over as CEO of Air Pacific in 1988 and provides insights into the airline’s relationship with Qantas, what it was like to operate in post-(Rabuka) coup Fiji, and into the decisions to move Air Pacific to Nadi from Suva and begin flights to Japan and the US. By the time he left Air Pacific, the airline had been profitable for each of the ten years he was CEO.

Unlike political biographies and books, there are few accounts of doing business in Fiji written from the inside. Sketches of Fiji is recommended to those with an interest in the history of Fiji’s tourism industry, and to those interested in doing business in Fiji more generally. While much of the book is very much an account of its time, there are some gems of practical advice and a reminder that basic decency can go a long way.

Sketches of Fiji is self-published. Details at https://sketchesoffiji.com/

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