Reports of a Pacific rift fail to understand the region

By Henrietta McNeill, Australian National University and Maima Koro, University of Adelaide in Canberra Canberra, July 8 (360info) Pacific island nations are well aware that disunity does not help the region.

When the Micronesian nations decided to stay in the Pacific Islands Forum, many commentators heralded it as a catastrophe averted. A year ago they said the forum had “collapsed”; Australia and New Zealand were too involved, the United States too little and China too much influence, they said.

The hyperbole has only grown with the Chinese security deal with the Solomon Islands. With the return of Micronesia, a destabilizing schism within the first Pacific regional body had been averted.

But much of this external commentary failed to take into consideration not only local dynamics, but also the Pacific Way.

The Pacific Way imposes itself by forging unity through talanoa and soālapule (discussions and consultations), whatever the issue, and by focusing on the realities of the region. As former Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Secretary General Dame Meg Taylor put it, the Pacific Way is how the region can “maintain our solidarity in the face of those who seek to divide us”.

The Pacific Way was first suggested by Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara of Fiji during the Lae Rebellion of 1965, which sparked the development of the PIF. Many definitions of it since then have used phrases such as “consensus-building”, but the Pacific Way is not a concept that can be so easily articulated.

It feels and lives. The Pacific Way is a process of arriving at the best possible outcome given the context, and in turn, the context defines how the concept is applied.

The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the challenges of a regional approach in new and unprecedented ways. But amid the storm, Pacific leaders saw opportunities to strengthen regionalism. Samoan Prime Minister Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa stressed that the Pacific would either be “breaking down or breaking through”. The latter prevailed.

By uniting on regional issues, FIP leaders, like their predecessors, demonstrated the style of leadership that has and will continue to define the region. Talanoa and soālapule cannot be effectively reached on digital platforms, resulting in the fallout of 2021.

Recent meetings in Fiji’s capital, Suva, which resulted in both the resolution of joining the PIF and the rejection of a pan-Pacific security agreement with China, reflected two elements of Pacific unity. , which demonstrate the importance of the talanoa and the soalaupule themselves to the Pacific Way.

The departure of some of the stalwarts of regionalism due to elections and term ends has seen new and some young leaders cross the Pacific. The old rulers had shaped and charted the way forward. New leaders have risen to unprecedented challenges, unified the region and demonstrated a renewed and positive outlook for the future of regionalism.

Regionalism organically evolved into a patchwork, with overlapping memberships, rather than a top-down architecture. This is one of the reasons why unity prevailed – when Micronesia suggested leaving the PIF, it did not discontinue its membership in other important regional institutions such as the Forum Fisheries Agency or Pacific Island police chiefs. Indeed, one of the resolutions at the Micronesian split was to reorganize the role of the Oceans Commissioner, another organic change to meet the needs of the Pacific.

The patchwork did not fall apart at the seams, due to the many unit layers.

Pacific leaders are united on regional priorities. Climate change is the biggest threat to Pacific livelihoods and remains at the center of the 2018 Boe Declaration. Tuvalu’s foreign minister, Simon Kofe, said great power politics was preventing coping to the major security threats to the region and that nations should not be “forced to choose sides” but rather come together to focus on a bigger threat like climate change.

At the 2022 Shangri-La Dialogue, a global defense summit, Fiji’s Defense Minister Inia Seruiratu also shared similar sentiments: “Machine guns, fighter jets, ships…are not our primary security concern… …devastating human-induced climate change. It threatens our hopes and dreams of prosperity,” Seruiratu said.

It was unity in the face of a common threat that brought the islands of the Pacific together again. They cannot fight climate change alone. Pacific island unity has shown strength in the face of climate change, including during COP26 and the negotiation of sovereign maritime boundaries in the blue Pacific. Indeed, Pacific island nations see themselves as great ocean states, which shows the importance of the region when united.

The region is at odds over the China issue, with some signing bilateral economic deals over Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s recent deals with the Federated States of Micronesia, and others outright rejecting China’s influence. China. Four Pacific states recognize Taiwan as an independent state: Nauru, the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and Palau.

To create a unified approach despite diverging interests, Pacific leaders are calling for issues that affect broader regional security to be brought before the PIF, including bilateral security agreements.

Whether the current regional security declarations signed at Biketawa (2000) and Boe (2018) are sufficient for this purpose will be discussed at the PIF in July, showing that there could be an evolution of the regional architecture to respond to emerging needs.

Regionalism in the Pacific has not collapsed and will not collapse, contrary to outside opinion. Instead, it has been strengthened internally, thanks to the Pacific Way values ​​of trust that unite the region. Pacific leaders used tried-and-true methods to emphasize that whatever the world throws at them, they will stick together.

The values ​​of unity are what sustain and maintain regionalism and sovereignty in the Pacific. (360info.org) MRJ

(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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