As the Polynesian Spearhead Group (PLG) observe its 10th anniversary in September 2011, its new member countries will have a say in the scheme of things in the complicated Polynesian geopolitics.
PLG was formed as a counterweight to the Melanesian Spearhead Group which gained more prominence among the Pacific Islands. The Group will be challenged politically by the Micronesian Leaders Group which was established by countries that are also members of the Pacific Islands Forum.
PLG was established in 2011 to seek a future for Polynesian peoples, maintain and protect the importance of cultures, traditions and languages. Further, having Polynesian affiliation, New Zealand, Hawaii and Rapanui have also become associated with the Polynesian Spearhead Group. It is expected that having a Polynesian population, Fiji will find itself a place in PLG, which has supplanted the Pacific Island Forum and added robustness to the system.
PLG has its origins with then Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, who initiated a meeting with the leaders of Tonga, Tuvalu, the Cook Islands, and Niue on the margins of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) summit in Auckland.
Fiji’s claim for being a part of PLG stems from the fact that despite cultural and political differences, it has been the single most important architect of the modern system of regional multilateralism among the Pacific Islands.
Importance of Fiji
Fiji’s first Prime Minister Sir Kamisese Mara favoured the Polynesian cultural traditions when the regional multi-lateral forum was mooted. This created tensions when Australia pressed for Papua New Guinea’s admission in 1972. The cultural divide grew as more Melanesian states secured independence.
Fiji will remind this to the other Polynesian members as it tries to mend the fence and reconcile.
For most of the ensuing 50 years, Fiji has been the only Island member that has been willing and able to devote the resources to regional leadership. Its leadership has been an essential part of the glue holding the PIF and MSG together.
Another country that will seek to find itself a place in the Polynesian culture will be Chile.
Chile’s expansion in the South Pacific Islands is helped by its former President Michelle Bachelet’s personal diplomatic touch by attending the Pacific Islands Forum regularly and enabling the subtle soft power of his countries in the South Pacific.
Chile’s interest in the Pacific Islands will continue under President Sebastián Pinera.
Politically, the South-East Pacific is represented in the Chilean Congress by two senators and two deputies each. Chile’s grip on the Easter Islands is obvious with the increased proportion of mainland Chileans dominating the local bureaucracy despite the representation of the Polynesians on the six-member Easter Island municipal council and in the House of Deputies.
Easter Island, natively called Rapa Nui, is situated more than 3218 kilometres (2000 miles) west of mainland Chile. But its control from the mainland is possible through the substantial military presence in Hanga Roa, the capital of Easter Island.
The Easter Island equation
Chile annexed Easter Island in 1888 and decided to extend a Special Status after the constitutional reforms of 2007. It is mainly habituated by Polynesians who at times raise the pitch of self-determination within the Pacific Islands Forum.
Another Chilean island possession in the South-East Pacific Juan Fernandez Islands, populated predominately from mainland Chile and therefore internal fissures do not exist.
The over-representation of the Pacific island territories in the Chilean Congress should be noted, with two of seven Senators elected from the Valparaiso district coming from Easter and Juan Fernandez Islands (out of a total of 38 Senators), and two of 12 Valparaiso deputies (out of a total of 120) coming from these underpopulated territories.
As it tries to have significant military and diplomatic presence, Chile will join the PSG in an effort to demonstrate its commitment its existential geographic outreach in the Polynesians Group. It will try to subtly silence the Polynesian self-determination movement of Easter Island despite having its military presence. If Chile can do that, it can help it expand its maritime reach in the South-East Pacific and even beyond.
Further, by having stakes in the PLG through French Polynesia, France will increase its stake in the Polynesian Spearhead Group.
It is expected that the Polynesian Spearhead Group will prove itself as a sub-regional group within the overall ambit of the Pacific Island Forum in the years to come.
In that context, Fiji and Chile, although culturally and geographically separated, will prove their worth in the noticeable future.
Balaji Chandramohan is Indian Newslink Correspondent based in New Delhi, India. He holds several degrees from Universities and Institutions of New Zealand and the United Kingdom and closely follows the geopolitics and economics of the Asia Pacific and South Pacific countries and writes regular commentaries.