East Asia Forum

Historical past repeats itself in 2021 for the Pacific Islands


Writer: Kerryn Baker, ANU

In 2021, the Pacific Islands noticed dramatic change with the threatened exit of Micronesian states from the Pacific Islands Discussion board and the autumn of the area’s longest serving political chief, former Samoan prime minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi. However in these and different main occasions we see echoes of the previous and threads of continuity in Pacific politics and worldwide relations.

FLNKS (Front de liberation nationale kanak et socialiste) activists and supporters gathered to celebrate their founding at the Conception tribe in the commune of Mont-Dore, where 37 years earlier to the day, the New Caledonian pro-independence leader Jean-Marie Tjibaou declared: Kanaky is being born. New Caledonia, Mont-Dore, 1 December, 2021 (Photo: Delphine Mayeur/Hans Lucas via Reuters).

In February, the Pacific Islands Discussion board broke aside over the controversial election of former Cook dinner Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna as the following Secretary-Normal, by one vote, over the Micronesian candidate, Gerald Zackios. 5 Micronesian states — Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru and Palau — introduced they would depart the Discussion board over what they noticed as a breach of a ‘gentleman’s settlement’ to rotate the place of Secretary-Normal between the three sub-regions. Whereas ‘Micronexit’ is way from confirmed as negotiations proceed, a leaders assembly in September made the rift clear when most Micronesian states boycotted.

This represents an existential risk to the Discussion board’s relevance. One which — regardless of threats from the Micronesian states within the lead-up to the vote — took observers abruptly. But this grievance is rooted in an extended historical past of perceived North Pacific marginalisation inside what was initially referred to as the South Pacific Discussion board. It intersected with different regional tensions, together with a battle over governance of the College of the South Pacific that noticed Vice-Chancellor Pal Ahluwalia expelled from Fiji amidst outcry. Whether or not Micronesia stays or goes, there’s work to be finished in regaining a way of pan-Pacific solidarity on the state stage.

Samoa’s election in April produced an sudden consequence: the prospect of a hung parliament after Tuilaepa, the second longest-serving prime minister on the earth, and his Human Rights Safety Occasion (HRPP) had dominated for many years. A brand new opposition occasion, Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST), led by fashionable politician Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, produced a shock upset on the polls.

After months of political wrangling and authorized challenges, Fiame was lastly confirmed as Samoa’s first lady prime minister in July.

Lengthy identified for its political stability, the turmoil in Samoa turned the 12 months’s largest Pacific information story. But eager observers famous the similarity between the occasions of 2021 and people of 1982, when the HRPP first took energy. It stays to be seen how massive of a shift in Samoan politics FAST represents, though the management of Fiame — a very long time HRPP MP and cupboard minister, who was deputy prime minister till 2020 — suggests there shall be some coverage continuity.

COP26, the United Nations local weather change convention, was lastly held in Glasgow late final 12 months. The pandemic created points for Pacific negotiators, stopping many regional leaders, diplomats and technical consultants from travelling to the convention. The consequence was hailed by some as progress, however many expressed disappointment at watered-down language on coal and an absence of motion on the Pacific’s push for funding for loss and harm.

COP26 appeared to finish as lots of its predecessors have: with Pacific negotiators making an affect, however the remainder of the world falling quick on agency commitments.

In November, discontent in Solomon Islands boiled over into riots within the capital, Honiara. The Solomon Islands authorities requested help from Australia, which rapidly responded. Papua New Guinea, Fiji and New Zealand additionally supplied safety help in an operation paying homage to the beginnings of the Regional Help Mission to Solomon Islands. The tensions prompted a vote of no confidence within the nation’s parliament, simply defeated by the federal government led by Manasseh Sogavare. At the moment in his fourth stint as prime minister, Sogavare is seen by many as representing an absence of progress in Solomon Islands politics.

A 3rd New Caledonian independence referendum returned a consequence favouring staying with France. However not like the leads to 2018 and 2020 — 57 per cent and 53 per cent respectively — the 2021 ballot noticed 96 per cent of voters rejecting independence. The drastic change was resulting from a pro-independence boycott after calls to postpone the referendum due to a COVID-19 outbreak went unheeded by French authorities. Professional-independence leaders indicated they won’t take part in any post-referendum negotiations earlier than 2022’s French presidential election. The referendum thus concludes with no clear solutions, a deeply divided voters and uncertainty on New Caledonia’s future standing.

All through 2021, the results of COVID-19 had been felt within the area, with giant outbreaks in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, French Polynesia, Guam and New Caledonia. Even for international locations that had only a few circumstances, the financial impacts have been devastating. Vaccine rollouts had combined outcomes, with vaccination charges starting from 3 per cent in Papua New Guinea to 99 per cent in Palau.

One notable theme in evaluating the 12 months’s occasions within the Pacific Islands is an unanticipated affect of the COVID-19 pandemic: the localisation of reports reporting. Border closures have restricted the flexibility of overseas journalists to journey to the area to cowl massive information tales. Native journalists have stepped as much as deliver Pacific information to worldwide audiences. That is a part of the broader story of localisation that has been a by-product of COVID-19 border closures. On this case, at the least, change is obvious.

Kerryn Baker is a Fellow on the Division of Pacific Affairs, The Australian Nationwide College.

This text is a part of an EAF particular characteristic collection on 2021 in evaluation and the 12 months forward.



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