- The Region in Review:International Issues and Events, 2014
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In 2014, Pacific Island countries mobilized to carry a regional voice into global summits on climate change, Small Island Developing States (sids), and Sustainable Development Goals. It was a year of elections across the region, fought largely on national issues but with outcomes that have significant regional implications.
There was ongoing debate about Pacific regionalism and the health of regional institutions. The leadership of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (pifs) was transferred from outgoing Secretary-General Tuiloma Neroni Slade to Papua New Guinea’s Dame Meg Taylor, with the Forum adopting a new “Framework on Pacific Regionalism” to replace the 2005 Pacific Plan.
Papua New Guinea and Fiji continued to joust over regional leadership, while smaller Island countries launched audacious challenges over the environment: Marshall Islanders spoke out at the United Nations (UN) Climate Summit and used the International Court of Justice to challenge nuclear proliferation. Across Melanesia, there was a renewed focus on human rights in West Papua and debate over relations with Indonesia, at a time of increased Pacific engagement with booming Asian economies.
The conservative Australian government led by Prime Minister Tony Abbott adopted policies on climate, aid, and security that clashed with the priorities of other Forum member countries. Abbott’s hosting of the Group of Twenty (g20) meeting in Brisbane highlighted his isolation on climate change, but the November summit of major powers also provided an important opportunity for international engagement: Chinese President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and French President François Hollande made flying visits to Island nations after the summit, pledging new initiatives on investment, infrastructure, and training.
All of these changes are intersecting in new and dynamic ways, with University of the South Pacific (usp) scholar Sandra Tarte arguing that “they constitute a deeper transformation, not just of the regional architecture, but of the regional order itself” (2014).
The September national elections in Fiji opened the way for Fiji’s reintegration into regional economic, security, and political institutions—though that process will come with conditions from the victorious FijiFirst government led by Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama. Voters also went to the polls in Niue (April), New Caledonia (May), Cook Islands (July), Solomon Islands (November), and Tonga (November).
The return to office of Toke Talagi allowed the Niue premier to take a more assertive stand in regional institutions. After the 2014 Forum leaders’ meeting, Talagi threatened to withdraw his country from the Smaller [End Page 488] Island States (sis) caucus, criticizing the regional body for not addressing core concerns for sis nations. Talagi complained: “We’re promised assistance but at the end of the day, … since I’ve been part of the Forum there’s been no substantial difference in the manner in which we are treated versus those in the larger countries. We don’t get any special assistance from the donor funding, we don’t get any special allocation of resources provided for the Pacific Islands Forum from regional institutions and so on. So I don’t see any particular reason why we should continue” (Pacnews 2014b).
In New Caledonia, a 2013 split in the anti-independence Rassemblement-ump party led to a significant victory by Philippe Gomes’s Calédonie Ensemble party during May 2014 elections. The incoming New Caledonian Congress is balanced between 29 opponents of independence and 25 supporters of independence, and French President Hollande’s November visit did not break the logjam over New Caledonia’s future political status (Maclellan 2015a).
A postelection pact between three competing anti-independence parties lasted less than six months, as the multiparty Government of New Caledonia led by President Cynthia Ligeard collapsed in December (Calédonie Ensemble’s Philippe Germain was chosen as president in April 2015 after a four-month delay, with the support of flnks ministers). Politics in the French Pacific will remain in flux as New Caledonia moves toward a referendum on self-determination in late 2018 and French Polynesia adjusts to the post-Flosse era, after long-serving President Gaston Flosse was removed from office in September following numerous convictions for abuse of public funds.
In Honiara, the...