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  • The Region in Review:International Issues and Events, 2005-2006
  • Karin Von Strokirch (bio)

Violent upheavals took place in the Pacific Islands in 2006—the Chinatown riots in Solomon Islands midyear, then "pro-democracy" riots in Tonga in November, and the Fiji coup mounted by Commodore Frank Bainimarama at year's end. To varying degrees, these events caused political instability and immense damage to property and the economy (notably tourism), and tore the fabric of society. The scenes were reminiscent of the 2000 coups in Suva and Honiara. Recent events provoked a similar response, with regional nations, mainly Australia and New Zealand, sending forces to quell the riots in Honiara and Nuku'alofa, while the Fiji coup attracted condemnation and sanctions. Generic factors contributing to security crises and the regional mechanisms for responding to them were addressed in an earlier review (von Strokirch 2001). National reviews elsewhere in this journal address the specific causes and consequences of the 2006 events. This review focuses on region-wide challenges to sustainable development and the role of Northeast Asian states.

Management of two issues is critical to the survival of most Pacific Island states and their economies: climate change and fisheries. They epitomize globalization in the islands, both in vulnerability to external forces and in the need for a global solution. To survive climate change, the Islands must adapt to effects that are, sadly, inevitable. But adaptation will be in vain unless urgent action is taken to reduce global greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions and stabilize the climate so that greater catastrophes can be avoided. Pacific Islanders are also preoccupied with sustainable use of regional fish stocks, notably the prized tuna. Due to the migratory nature of fish, and of the boats that hunt them, marine conservation requires global cooperation to support an effective regional organization.

In the review period of 2005 and 2006, great attention was devoted to climate change, the related issue of natural hazard management, and fisheries. At global and regional levels, conferences were held to assess progress and move international cooperation forward. Major reports by regional and UN agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and scholars fed global debates. In recognition of the worldwide dimension of these issues, and the two-way interaction between regional and global organizations, this review surveys trends at United Nations forums and the parallel evolution of international law.

Past reviews have looked at the role of established external actors in the Pacific in assisting or hindering regional goals. These actors are the colonial powers, morphed into aid donors: Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and France. This review examines the impact of China, Japan, and Taiwan. This Northeast Asian trio [End Page 552] has become more engaged, as reflected in summits with Pacific Island leaders in 2006. They are competing, with each other and with traditional metropolitan powers, for natural resources and diplomatic influence. Their uses of aid to achieve these objectives, and their records on climate change and fisheries, are analyzed later in this review.

Small island states have long campaigned for international action to reduce ghg emissions and thereby mitigate climate change. So long as only the survival of atoll communities was perceived to be at stake, most of the world's nations persisted with fossil-fuel-intensive growth and its corollary, burgeoning carbon emissions. Pacific Islanders can take heart that in 2006 global attitudes shifted. The balance of opinion among the mass media, the public, and thus politicians appears to be moving from skepticism to acknowledgment of global warming, its anthropogenic causes, and its likely consequences. This realization came about due to visible effects, popularization of the issue, awareness of the economic costs, and confidence in models predicting the timing and scale of climate change.

Significantly, climate change is being felt in the developed countries. Average temperatures are rising and extreme weather events have become more common and destructive. The European heat wave in 2003 killed 35,000 people and resulted in agricultural losses of us$15 billion (Stern 2006, viii). Hurricane Katrina's impact on the US Gulf Coast, notably the inundation of New Orleans, acted as a wake-up call that climate change is increasing the severity of cyclones to a scale that...


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