Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Pacific links: diplomatic wrangling and country nomenclature

From Solomon Islands to Cook Islands, controversy abounds with stories from across the Pacific Islands region.

Photo: Michael Coghlan/Flickr
Photo: Michael Coghlan/Flickr

  • Reuters and the ABC report on the potential for Solomon Islands to switch its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China. Solomon Islands’ top diplomat went to Taipei on Sunday for talks, while Taiwan is considering sending a delegation to Honiara to better understand the needs of the Pacific nation. For the best coverage of the issue, I recommend the latest episode of the Little Red Podcast and watch for an upcoming write-up by Graeme Smith on The Interpreter.
  • Meanwhile, it was a good fortnight for Beijing in the Pacific. First, Frank Bainimarama spoke of high esteem for China. Presumably, Australia would have liked the same treatment. Then, later that week, it was made public that the top university for Chinese Diplomats is now teaching its students how to speak seven of the numerous Pacific Islands languages.
  • But there was some darker news for Beijing in the region, too. First, in Vanuatu, the Secretary General of the Nagriamel political movement Jeff Patunvanu declared that Nagriamel intends to review the government’s stand on the one-China policy. Second, in PNG, the short but troubled history of the first Chinese resource investment in the country added another chapter last month, after toxic spills from the $2 billion Ramu Nickel mine project into a bay in Papua New Guinea’s Madang province.
  • Meanwhile, the West is still looking to counter the rise of China in the region. Derek Grossman and Michael Chase explain how the Compact of Free Association (COFA) states are key to the battle of influence between China and the US in the Pacific. In that same vein, Anthony Bergin makes the case for an inclusion of Pacific Islanders in the Australian Defence Force, which would strengthen Australia’s “step up”.
  • Tess Newton Cain explains why she considers the Pacific Islands Forum amounted to a failure for Australia and offers advice on what could be done to improve relations with the neighbours. None of this was helped by an Australian TV host mocking the Cook Islands, dubbing the country an unfortunately offensive blend of Cook and Rock. Indeed, the Cook Islands might soon change its name, to better reflect its Polynesian culture.
  • In Samoa, a new whistle-blower law worries journalists. Meanwhile, James Robertson reports on a new research proving that Samoa’s minimum wage needs to be raise from $2.30 Tala to $3.70. On that same week, a new Pacific Climate Change Centre, mostly funded by New Zealand, has opened its doors.
  • Climate change is indeed an important threat to the region. This UN Environment Program article explains why Aid for Trade could be greatly beneficial for the Pacific, reminding us that in the 2018 World Risk Report, nine Pacific Islands topped the ranking, with Vanuatu and Tonga in first and second position. Sadly, new research finds that the Pacific Islands may be generating 20 times the global average of the plastic waste that ends up in our oceans.
  • In its fight for independence, Timor Leste has counted on the support of Vanuatu. As a sign of recognition, Vanuatu’s Prime Minister Charlot Salwai received the 20th Anniversary Medal of Popular Consultation from Timor Leste President, Francisco Guterres Lú-Olo last week. 
  • J.M. Coetzee provides an insightful reminder of Australia’s immigration policy when reviewing Manus’ refugee Behrouz Boochani’s book, No Friend but the Mountains.
  • Stephen Howes looks at Papua New Guinea’s efforts to access foreign loans to finance the government’s budget. Both Australia and China are in play.
  • Have you heard of Palmerston island? It is part of the Cook Islands, 500 miles from Rarotonga, and faces a difficult conundrum: an airport would have the power to both shore up Palmerston’s greatest vulnerability yet could destroy the atoll as it currently exists.

Pacific Research Program

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