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The Contemporary Pacific 13.2 (2001) 510-528

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The Region in Review: International Issues and Events, 2000

Karin Von Strokirch
School of Social Science, University of New England, Armidale, NSW

Security was the key concern for the region in the year 2000 in the wake of coups in Fiji and the Solomon Islands, burgeoning demands for independence in West Papua, and continuing efforts to find a lasting political settlement on Bougainville. These political and security crises are examined individually. The timeliness and efficacy of the response by Australia, the regional heavyweight, and by the Forum is then assessed. Finally a broad comparison of regional crises is undertaken to ascertain whether any trends are emerging with respect to the role of ethnicity and other factors in causing conflict, as well as to illuminate ways to deter the resort to illegal means, including violence, to achieve political ends. First, however, is an update on efforts to promote environmental dimensions of security, notably the coordinated management of regional fisheries and the latest outcome in international efforts to combat climate change.

The negotiation process known as the Multilateral High Level Conference for Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks was launched in 1997 and concluded with a convention open to signature on 5 September 2000 after its seventh and final session in Honolulu. All sixteen Forum Fisheries Committee members attended, as did France and the French territories and the eight distant-water fishing nations. The quest to adopt the convention by consensus proved impossible and it was finally put to a vote with 19 in favor, 2 against (Japan and South Korea), and 3 abstentions (China, France, and Tonga). It was subsequently signed by 11 states and ratified by Fiji.

Japan, in particular, was dissatisfied with numerous aspects of the final draft, including the boundaries of the convention area and decision-making procedures that Japan considered discriminatory against the minority, namely Asian distant-water fishing nations. In the end a compromise formula was adopted in which chambers of Forum and non-Forum members of the proposed commission would each need to support a decision by a three-fourths majority in order for it to pass. This would provide decisions with sufficient clout to implement them but also prevent individual countries from exercising veto power. To address widely held concerns that France would secure more votes for itself by virtue of its three territories, it was decided that separate rules of procedure be drawn up to specify the extent of participation by overseas territories.

Finalizing the convention is a major step in formalizing cooperation between the Pacific Islands and distant-water fishing nations over sustainable fisheries management. However, it is just the beginning of a long and challenging process to implement the agreement. In the short term, decisions must be reached on the location of the permanent headquarters of the commission. Entry into force then requires ratification by 3 distant-water fishing nations and 7 coastal states, or, if after three years enough distant-water fishing nations have not ratified, [End Page 510] with 12 ratifications. Realistically, the convention will not work without the majority of the distant-water fishing nations supporting it, and northeast Asian participation still remains doubtful. Financing the commission is also a vexed issue, as those distant-water fishing nations that ratify are loath to bear a disproportionate burden. Compliance and enforcement provisions constitute one of the biggest tasks for the future commission, especially with respect to those that do not ratify. Equally demanding is the commission's crucial role in determining how to allocate fishing opportunities and how to accommodate the entry of new distant-water fishing nations.

Notwithstanding the challenges facing implementation, the Convention for the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks is a remarkable achievement. "It includes the large interlocking EEZS of the Pacific Islands, as well as vast stretches of high seas. . . . opportunities [have been] created through the convention to manage and conserve the highly valuable, as well as highly migratory, fish stocks of the western and central Pacific. The convention also provides...


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