BY FRANCIS HUALUPMOMI
IT APPEARS THAT domestic politics will affect how Papua New Guinea makes rational strategic choices at this month’s regional summits: the annual Australia-PNG ministerial meeting in Australia and the 44th ASEAN Meeting and 18th ASEAN regional meeting to be held in Bali.
At the height of political maneuvering of the current National Alliance leadership, three important issues were raised by sacked former Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister, Don Polye. As far as regional relations are concerned, these issues are strategically important for PNG to confront the changing geopolitical climate in the region.
The first issue concerns the Gillard proposal to revisit Manus detention centre, whilst the other two revolve around the ability of the government to participate in the three summits.
Given the magnitude of PNG’s domestic political tension, it seems clear that the issue of reopening the former asylum centre in Manus may not take shape. The asylum proposal has been controversial due to its failure to produce tangible outcomes. This may have shaped Abal’s position.
However, in the event that this may pop up in the meeting, the rational choice is for the government to maximise the national interest.
On the same lines, the ASEAN meetings are extremely important for PNG given its prominence in the Pacific. ASEAN is now a driving force globally with the Asian tigers and the recent ascendance of China’s economic power.
The puzzling question is how can PNG strategically reposition itself in the reconfigured international order under the framework of ASEAN?
Polye has pulled the string further by precisely arguing that the indifference in domestic politics may affect PNG’s regional relations and positioning in the forum.
Ano Pala, Polye’s successor, has responded with a positive but unclear proposal. The Post-Courier reported that Ano Pala and his chief advisor, Michael Mauve, will attend the meeting with no specific proposals. However, it is expected that all is set for PNG to drive its agenda in the context of national preferences and regional interactions.
The central issue is how PNG will shape up in the forum. With PNG’s elastic wallet, given its recent economic performance, it has the economic power to wield some influence in gaining credibility and recognition.
Within the context of economic power maximisation, it would be a rational choice for PNG to seek permanent status in ASEAN. PNG cannot afford to lose this important opportunity. Polye’s advice to open some embassies in ASEAN will be a strategic choice as far as national interest is concerned.
PNG has caught ASEAN’s eye already as a driving economic force given its material resources. Should PNG raise the voice of its national anthem in the forum under the framework of gaining permanent status; an outcome will be expected.
PNG can wield its economic leverage its current investors, for instance, US and China, to support its proposal to join the forum.
In summary, in the calculus of strategic choice and decision making, it would be wiser for PNG to seize these opportunities in summit diplomacy to exercise its growing influence in regional politics.
The annual Australia-PNG ministerial meeting is a playground in which PNG can opt for better package. In the ASEAN meet, PNG would be better to opt for permanent status – playing the ASEAN card is a strategic choice given the nature and scope of shifting geopolitical geo-economical dynamics.
The author studies a Master of Arts in International Relations at the Institute of International Studies, Jilin University, People’s Republic of China. His core area of interest is in International Security focusing on Geopolitics of Energy, China-US Foreign Policy in Asia-Pacific and Political Economy of East Asia. firstname.lastname@example.org