Review Of The New Pacific Diplomacy

  This new book argues that since 2009 and Fiji’s suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), there has been a “paradigm shift” in the way that Pacific Island states
05 Feb 2017 11:21
Review Of The New Pacific Diplomacy
Minal Prasad of the USP Bookcentre reads the book. Photo: USP


This new book argues that since 2009 and Fiji’s suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), there has been a “paradigm shift” in the way that Pacific Island states engage with regional and world politics –a “new Pacific diplomacy”.

In their introduction, the two editors propose that this represents a cataclysmic change. Not since the creation of the PIF in 1970 and the transition from colonialism to independence, has there been such a profound transformation in the way that Pacific Island governments engage with each other and with the rest of the world.

The book’s 24 contributors are current and former Pacific leaders, senior diplomats, scholars, civil society leaders and other intellectuals. One of the key issues that they address is the influence of Australia and New Zealand in regional affairs.

Several argue that the two neighbours have made it increasingly difficult for PICs (Pacific Island Countries) to pursue joint regional positions on important collective interests such as climate changeor to form alliances of interests with other South-based organisations.

President Anote Tong of Kiribati begins the book by declaringthat “we are large ocean states”.

This sets the scene for the rest of the book and the view that Pacific countries are strong and can be influential provided they remain steadfast in their pursuit of self-determination and continue to be creative and strong in their solidarity towards each other.

Heis followed by Kaliopate Tavola, one of the Pacific’s most accomplished diplomats.

Tavola argues that a new regional “architecture” is necessary because thecurrent arrangements led by PIF have failed to deliver on long promised but long under-delivered benefits of regionalism. He proposes the creation of aPSIDSForum (Pacific Small Islands Developing States).

This new forumwould keep Australia and New Zealand at arm’s length and yet retain their goodwill and generosity by way of a formally negotiated agreement with them.

In her article, Dame Meg Taylor (current secretary-general of the PIF Secretariat) defends her organisation’s recordin adapting to the Pacific’s fast changing diplomatic landscape. Thenew “Framework for Pacific Regionalism”is PIFS’ way of generating a‘deeper regionalism’in whichForum leaders and the citizens of the region have greater power to determine the region’s priorities.

The 2015 Forum meeting in PNG suggests that Dame Meg’s vision of a deeper regionalism is already in trouble.

In their articles, Claire Slatter and Maureen Penjueli are critical of the PIFS, especially the development model that drives its economic policies (which they see as fundamentally flawed), as well as its past record of engaging with the views and ideas of civil society groups.

Sandra Tarte’s chapter is a useful overview of the inaugural meeting of PIDF (Pacific Islands Development Forum)in 2013. PIDF is presentedas the expression of a profound disillusionment with the current regional order.

It reflects a consensus among Pacific leaders that new approaches must be developed to meet the challenges posed by a myriad of social, economic, and environmental problems.

By accommodating non-state actors as full members of the process, PIDF has mounted a significant challengeto the donor-dominated PIFS system.

Yet, Tarte’s chapter leaves uswith a sense of the enormity of the task that lies ahead as PIDF seeks to fulfil its promise.

Fulori Manoa attributesrecent Pacific Island successes in global diplomacy to the innovative and collaborativework of their country missions in New York.As PSIDS, they have helped to secure French Polynesia’s re-inscription on the United Nations’ list of non-self-governing territories.

The Fiji section of the book begins with the country’s roving ambassador, Litia Mawi, whoextols her government’s recent diplomatic achievements.She credits Fiji for pioneering a new era in Pacific diplomacy through its “look north” policy, the establishment of numerous new diplomatic ties, stronger South-South cooperation, and the establishment of PIDF with its focus on problem-solving, green growth, and inclusivity. Makareta Komai complements Mawi’s chapter.

The third section examines the manoeuvrings s of powerful forces from outside the island Pacific. Michael O’Keefe,argues thatChina and Russia’s growing assertiveness is disrupting US hegemony in our region.

Tess Newton-Cain begins the section onsub-regionalism with an overview of the achievements, challenges and opportunities ofthe MSG (Melanesian Spearhead Group).

Sovaia Marawa – a former Fijian Director of Trade – discusses the Melanesian free tradeagreementas a positive outcome of Melanesian diplomacy.

Suzanne Gallen explains the obstacles that hindersub-regional cooperation among small island states in the North Pacific and between the North and South Pacific.

The last third of the book examines four key areas in which the Pacific’s new diplomacy is being deployed: climate change, fisheries, trade, and decolonisation.

On climate change, Nicolette Gouldingand George Carter examine the Pacific’s efficacyatinfluencing global negotiations.

While Gouldingquestions the ability and willingness of Pacific states to achieve a cohesive platform on climate change, Carter suggests thatas climate change negotiations have evolved and processes matured, so too have the diplomatic capabilities and effectiveness of Pacific states.

Tuna negotiations in the Pacific are a David versus Goliath battle in which the Pacific has used smart tactics to overcome the bargaining power of such powerful trading blocs asthe US and EU.

Both Transform Aqorau and Jope Tarai explainthat the PNA (Parties to the Nauru Agreement), as a sub-regional group, has transformed regional tuna negotiations and strengthened the negotiating hand of its members.

Wesley Morgan argues that PICs have more agency in international trade negotiations than is commonly understood. In his view, Pacific officials have been tough negotiators who have driven a hard bargain with the EUon the EPA (Economic Partnership Agreement) and with Australia and New Zealand on PACER Plus.

Nic Maclellan’s chapter on decolonisation argues that PICs are now more likely to use the MSG and PSIDS than PIF to push for the self-determination of colonised people.

Maclellan observes that while Pacific governments have been happy to criticise the French government over its Pacific colonies, they are less keen to attack Indonesia in spite of its appalling human rights record in West Papua.

This book marks a turning point in the way that people will understand Pacific regionalism.Policy-makers will find it provocative.

Academics and students will find in it new thinking to supporttheircourses in diplomacy. It is highly readable and representsthe most complete and current book available on Pacific diplomacy.


The New Pacific Diplomacy (Fiji Edition 315pp)

USP Press, The University of the South Pacific

Price: $30.00 FJD


Available at USP Book Centre:  email, website




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