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  • The Region in Review: International Issues and Events, 2018
  • Nic Maclellan (bio)

The year 2018 was a year of anniversaries, celebrating decades of political independence as well as innovative regional institutions.

The University of the South Pacific (usp)—one of the Pacific’s most important regional initiatives—marked its fiftieth anniversary. Over the past five decades, it has grown from a small campus at Laucala Bay in Suva to a multifaceted institution, with the Emalus campus in Vanuatu and a network of extension centers spanning the region. A fiftieth-anniversary history documents how the university has educated generations of Pacific leaders and provided a vital space for debate, reflection, and agitation (Leckie 2018).

Across the Pacific, countries commemorated anniversaries of colonization, independence, or political sovereignty. Forum Island Countries held birthday celebrations, including Nauru (1968), Tuvalu (1978), and Solomon Islands (1978). Australia marked the 230th anniversary of the First Fleet landing on 26 January—a day mourned as Invasion Day by indigenous peoples. With 2018 marking the twentieth anniversary of the 1998 Noumea Accord, the French dependency of New Caledonia held a referendum on self-determination in November. Bougainville also marked the fortieth anniversary of the creation of provincial government in Papua New Guinea (PNG), a key step on the path toward the islands’ looming independence referendum in late 2019.

Pacific Islands Forum (pif) leaders met in Nauru in September for their annual meeting. Among a bevy of outcomes (pifs 2018b), a key statement reframed the regional security discussion. The Boe Declaration looks to an “expanded concept of security inclusive of human security, humanitarian assistance, prioritizing environmental security and regional cooperation in building resilience to disasters and climate change, including through regional cooperation and support” (pifs 2018a). While covering a diverse range of traditional security issues, an unprecedented provision notes that all leaders “reaffirm that climate change remains the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific and our commitment to progress the implementation of the Paris Agreement” (pifs 2018a).

The challenge now is for donors and development partners to refocus technical assistance, research, and finance on the existential threat of climate change. This will be difficult at a time when traditional security agendas are driving regional debate, with Western nations mobilizing against Chinese influence in the Pacific.

For Smaller Island States (sis) like 2018 Forum host Nauru and 2019 host Tuvalu—both with populations of around eleven thousand people—the logistics of these meetings are becoming difficult. There are currently eighteen Forum Dialogue Partners (Canada, the People’s Republic of China, Cuba, the European Union, [End Page 498] France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States). In addition to the partners, the annual meeting is attended by representatives of Forum associate members (Tokelau and newly upgraded Wallis and Futuna) as well as Forum observers (American Sāmoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Timor-Leste, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations [UN] Secretariat, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, and the World Bank). Add in the media, civil society, and business representatives, and other entities, and a bed for the night is at a premium!

As more global players look to the Islands region for diplomatic advantage, they bring their agendas into the annual Forum meeting. This can crowd out the priorities of Pacific Island countries and clash with local ways of working. The packed program of the meeting, with numerous side events, bilateral consultations, and press conferences, also places pressure on leaders and key Forum staff as they rush from session to session.

After the 2018 sis meeting in Nauru, sis leaders formally noted the “increasing complexities of the geopolitical environment as well as the increasing interest of traditional and non-traditional partners in the Blue Pacific and called for the need to be provided the space and time to be able to discuss issues and priorities of shared importance” (pifs 2018e).

These problems may lead to changes in the structure of the annual meeting, such as shifting the Forum Dialogue Partners’ session to earlier in the year, alongside the new Forum...