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  • The Region in Review:International Issues and Events, 2017
  • Nic Maclellan (bio)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

In 2017, Pacific collective diplomacy reached new heights, with Island nations campaigning on the oceans, climate change, and nuclear disarmament through the Pacific Small Island Developing States (psids). Fiji completed its presidency of the UN General Assembly, cohosted the first global conference on the oceans, and took up the presidency of cop23—the 23rd Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

At the same time, the US administration under President Donald Trump announced—often through tweets—policies on climate change, nuclear weapons, and maritime law that rolled back the achievements of years of patient international diplomacy. With uncertainty over the post-2020 relationship with the European Union, growing Chinese power, and adverse climate policies from Canberra, it was a difficult year for Pacific regionalism.

As the Pacific Community (spc) marked its 70th anniversary, key regional initiatives—from ramsi to pacer-Plus negotiations—came to an end. At the same time, regional organizations struggled with their attitude toward independence for the remaining Pacific territories.

The central theme of the September 2017 Forum leaders' meeting was "The Blue Pacific—Our Sea of Islands." Drawing together regional priorities on the oceans, climate change, security, and fisheries, the theme echoed the vision of the late Epeli Hau'ofa by lauding the interconnections of the liquid continent (Waddell, Naidu, and Hau'ofa 1993).

At the Forum's opening ceremony in Apia, host Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said: "The Blue Pacific provides a new narrative for Pacific regionalism and how the Forum engages with the world. It will require a different way of working together that prioritizes The Blue Pacific as the core driver of Forum policymaking and collective action" (Tuilaepa 2017a).

Throughout 2017, Pacific governments promoted the Blue Pacific agenda on the international stage. Holding the presidency of the United Nations General Assembly (unga) in 2016–2017—an unprecedented achievement for an Island nation—Fiji's Ambassador Peter Thomson used his position to raise international awareness of regional concerns. Completing his ambassadorship in September, Thomson was appointed as the first UN special envoy for the ocean by UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

Action around the oceans was a central regional priority. Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum Dame Meg Taylor, who also serves as Pacific Oceans commissioner, noted: "A healthy Pacific Ocean means a prosperous Pacific people. The ocean is integral to our cultures, well-being and economic growth" (Fiji Sun 2017). [End Page 462]

In 2015, as the United Nations adopted seventeen new Sustainable Development Goals (sdgs), Pacific governments successfully pushed for a specific goal on the oceans and seas. sdg14 pledges action to "conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development" (UN 2017a).

To implement sdg14, Fiji and Sweden cohosted the high-level UN Conference on the Oceans and Seas in New York in June 2017. This conference issued a call for action, highlighting action on ocean acidification, plastics, and overfishing. By the end of the conference, 1,328 voluntary commitments had been registered by governments, UN bodies, nongovernment organizations, private corporations, and others, far exceeding expectations. Pacific governments now hope to update the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (unclos) through talks on a new agreement on conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdictions.

The Oceans Conference also provided a platform to draw attention to Pacific fisheries policy. Director General of the Forum Fisheries Agency (ffa) James Movick noted: "More than any other UN Conference, this is one event where the Pacific nations are coming to demonstrate their global leadership of the issue on the table. They are coming to talk Oceans, and the Pacific lessons and achievements when it comes to sustainable tuna fisheries management" (Fiji Sun 2017).

But this cooperation is complicated by the influence of Distant Water Fishing Nations (dwfn) and colonial powers in the region like the United States and France. The 2016 decision to include French Polynesia and New Caledonia as full members of the Forum has raised difficult issues...


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pp. 462-481
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