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  • The Region in Review: International Issues and Events, 2019
  • Nic Maclellan (bio)

Melanesia in Review: Issues and Events, 2019

volker boege, rebecca bogiri, mathias chauchat, joseph daniel foukona, budi hernawan, michael leach, james stiefvater, jope tarai

[End Page 523]

The Region in Review: International Issues and Events, 2019

Around the Pacific, advertising agencies had a boom year in 2019 as governments rebranded their support for the Pacific Islands. Australia is “stepping up” and New Zealand “resetting” their Pacific policies. The United States launched its “Pacific pledge,” while Indonesia announced a “Pacific elevation.” China and Taiwan jousted for diplomatic support, offering “South-South” solidarity.

Despite this renewed engagement, Pacific Island citizens are grappling with a challenging international context. With the slowdown of the global economy in late 2018, many Island governments geared up for tough economic times. The adverse effects of climate change and the ongoing failure of global climate negotiations generated economic as well as environmental costs. With an increasingly hostile tone, Australia and the United States ramped up efforts to blunt Chinese influence in a region now dubbed the “Indo-Pacific.”

The policy of strategic denial in the Islands promoted by the anzus alliance of Australia, New Zealand, and the United States is designed to reinforce Western power in the wider Asia-Pacific region. This agenda is supported by external powers like France, India, and Japan, which all have their own regional agendas. In response, Pacific Island government and community leaders are outlining their vision of a unified, sustainable region.

Recognizing that “the world wants Oceania like never before,” the Reclaiming Oceania Collective at the University of the South Pacific highlighted the resistance of Pacific communities: “Pacific islanders—stewards of the ocean for thousands of years—are organizing at unprecedented scales. New social movements aim to reassert an ‘oceanic’ identity, and are confronting forces that would usurp their sovereignty and heritage. Pacific islanders are also leveraging their ‘oceanic presence’ in processes of multi lateral oceans diplomacy” (Reclaiming Oceania Collective 2018).

There is a growing body of research that seeks to redefine notions of regional security and development, which stress the importance of collective diplomacy, civil society engagement, and Indigenous perspectives (Fry and Tarte 2015; Salesa 2017; Fry 2019; Ratuva 2019; Morgan 2019).

In August, the annual Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Tuvalu reaffirmed the “Blue Pacific” as its key policy framework. Dame Meg Taylor, secretary-general of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, noted: “The Blue Pacific represents our recognition that as a region, we are large, connected and strategically important” (Taylor 2019b).

The year was marked by significant engagement with the United Nations (UN), including an unprecedented regional visit by UN Secretary-General António Guterres in May, with stops in Fiji, New Zealand, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu. Guterres sees the UN Pacific Small Island Developing States (psids) [End Page 524] group as an ally in his global advocacy on climate change. Seeking to drive momentum toward his UN Climate Action Summit in September and global climate negotiations in November, the secretary-general said that Pacific Island leaders have a unique moral authority to speak out on the climate crisis.

In May, the Forum hosted a summit with Guterres in Nadi, where he highlighted two fundamental challenges for the Pacific region: “First, the increasingly severe impacts of climate change, and second, the deepening threats to the world’s oceans and seas” (Maclellan 2019e). Following the summit, Pacific leaders issued the “Blue Pacific’s Call for Urgent Global Climate Change Action,” stressing the importance of higher ambition at the Climate Action Summit in New York (pifs 2019a). In line with the Boe Declaration issued at the 2018 Nauru Forum, Island leaders called on the UN secretary-general to appoint a Special Adviser on Climate Change and Security (pifs 2018).

Despite this visit, officials from the Council of Regional Organizations of the Pacific are concerned that increased UN activity in the Pacific may draw resources away from existing regional organizations. Outgoing Director-General of the Pacific Community (spc) Dr Colin Tukuitonga noted: “We compete with UN agencies for the same pot of money and the UN has the advantage over us because of their size and global reach” (Magick 2019). After six...


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