Global players taunt Pacific Islands Forum with high stakes

Balaji Chandramohan

Balaji Chandramohan

New Delhi, June 28, 2021

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As the Pacific Islands Forum marks its Golden Jubilee in August 2021, members countries and others interested in the region will take stock of the regional bloc and articulate on its achievements and shortcomings.

Since the first meeting of the regional body, known then as ‘The South Pacific Forum,’ held in 1971, the geopolitics of the region and indeed the world has undergone a metamorphosis, warranting a revisit of its mission and goals.

While it is hoped that the meeting of the Forum will be held in Fiji, which will provide an ideal setting to examine the relevance of regional and multilateral organisations and how they supplant the objectives of the United Nations, including eradication of poverty and counter-terrorism measures to foster international peace and security.

From a historic perspective, following the end of World War II, the emerging nations of Asia and Africa were keen to have in place organisations to cater to their regional requirements, including settlement of territorial disputes and promote trade and commerce. It was widely believed that the Veto power vested in the Permanent Members of the UN Security Council in itself was a segregating factor, countries joining the world body were worried if their sovereignty and right to self-determination will be comprised by joining the UN.

Post-War regional bodies

Many regional organisations that were formed after 1945 were keen to ensure that their rights and positions were not compromised. Among such organisations were the African Union, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), Australia New Zealand United States Treaty and the Arab League. While NATO was primarily a military or defence club, others like the African Union or the South Asian Association of the Regional Cooperation (SAARC) were established to address regional issues amicably.

However, all the regional organisations needed to be within the scope of the UN and comply with the UN mandate of establishing international peace and security.

The Pacific Islands Forum was formed within the scope of the mandate.

Meetings of the South Pacific Forum were held in Wellington (New Zealand), with member States comprising Nauru, Western Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Cook Islands, Australia and New Zealand. It was an informal group discussing a wide range of issues of common concern.

Today, the Pacific Island Forum provides a full display of the complexity of geopolitics in the South Pacific and the Pacific Island countries.

Relevance of West Papua

Apart from the Melanesian and Polynesian countries competing for the regional influence, the Pacific Islands Forum saw the continued relevance of West Papua and issues related to the self-determination movement in New Caledonia.

Earlier, Australia and New Zealand took different approaches to some of the major issues facing the Island nations. India, France, Indonesia and China also reaffirmed their interest and extended their influence in the South Pacific, significantly impacting the wider Indo-Pacific region. The US administration under Joe Biden will continue to further Washington’s interest in Oceania.

In this context, the ensuing Pacific Islands Summit in August 2021 will have many things to sort out. To start with, Fiji is set to host the Forum and will seek to raise its status among the member countries. Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama has invited Mr Biden and how the geopolitics will shape up in the months and years to come.

Fiji will raise its stocks with the Melanesian Spearhead Group and hope for a position at the Polynesian Spearhead Group. By making a good impression among Pacific Island countries, Mr Bainimarama will appeal to his people in lead up to general elections in 2022.

New Zealand to push Biketawa Declaration

New Zealand will use the occasion to push for the  Biketawa Declaration 2.0.

Pacific Islands Forum leaders agreed on an original security statement in 2000 after a coup in Fiji and ethnic tensions in the Solomon Islands.

The Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands was enabled under the Biketawa Declaration. Under the Declaration, Forum countries could form such a mission and send their officials to a member country at the request of the affected nation.

This idea will have a new makeover and it will be mooted again by New Zealand.

New Zealand’s then-Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark had a major role to play in that and in an effort to do justice to that legacy, current Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will follow suit and endeavour New Zealand to be a part of Biketawa Declaration 2.0.

The Declaration (2.0) will work in tandem with the regional security force Legion, comprising the Melanesian countries. Wellington and Suva will work closely on this, prompting others like India to contribute their military experience.

Defence Paper in 2022

New Zealand is expected to announce its Defence White Paper by next year, providing a clearer picture of the country’s strategic intention in the Pacific Islands.

France and Indonesia will watch the happenings in the Pacific Islands Forum very closely. Paris hopes to raise its stake in the Polynesian Spearhead Group and make an effort to present itself well in the Pacific Islands Forum. The country may send a high-level delegation for the Summit and Indonesia will address issues related to West Papua.

South American countries such as Chile and Peru will also pitch to be Dialogue Partners of the Pacific Islands Forum. Chile has a significant interest in the Polynesian countries of the region through its Easter Island connection.

Observers say that the Pacific Island Forum Meeting in August 2021 will be used as a platform to address some of the outstanding issues of the region.

Balaji Chandramohan is Indian Newslink Correspondent based in New Delhi. He evinces wide interest in the political affairs of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Island countries. He lives in New Delhi. This story has been sponsored by 

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