TODAY THERE IS AN UNDERSTANDING that the foreign policy of leading Western powers cannot be understood through considering nation states as selfish actors pursing narrow self-interest.
Since the end of the Cold War, major states have increasingly stressed the importance of ethics and values in shaping international goals and have intervened internationally on the basis of ethical foreign policy concerns such as human rights and international justice.
National interest, a term used to define a country's goals and ambitions whether economic, military, or cultural, is an important notion in international relations.
PNG’s national interest is in question time and again, such as on occasions like Australia's use of Manus Island as a "Pacific Solution" detention centre for foreigners seeking asylum in Australia.
Other notable instances include PNG’s difficulty balancing competing relations with Taiwan and China. When then Prime Minister Bill Skate proposed a deal in 1999 which would have traded diplomatic recognition of Taiwan for a substantial loan, it was a gesture which brought on trade sanctions from China.
When he took office, Sir Mekere Morauta was quick to repudiate Skate's concept in favour of continuing a strict policy of official relations with China, not with Taiwan.
For his part, Sir Michael Somare, on assuming office, seemed to favour more formal trading relations with Taiwan and sent a trade delegation prompting protests by China.
Defending the national interest can be a complex task.
National interest is often associated with political realists who wish to differentiate themselves from idealistic policies that seek to inject morality into foreign policy or promote solutions that rely on multilateral institutions which they see as possibly weakening the independence of a country.
The term is also often invoked to justify isolationist policies or to justify interventionist or warlike policies.
Papua New Guinea, like many other developing nations, has its own national interest that very much tries to reflect its culture and operate in the good of its citizens. A major objective is security and survival.
While PNG’s extensive mineral deposits provide a firm foundation for potential prosperity, about 85% of our people still rely on subsistence agriculture and fishing for survival, sometimes in some of the most isolated spots on the planet.
PNG remains one of the least developed nations on earth and these communities receive little trickle down benefit from commodity exports. The UNDP’s 2006 Human Development Index ranked PNG 139th of 177 countries surveyed, lower than any other country in the Pacific.
Life expectancy at birth is only 55.3 years; the infant mortality rate is 69 per 1,000 live births, and maternal mortality is 300 per 100,000 live births. Only 57% of adults are literate, and only half of all children have access to primary school education.
As a result PNG is achieving significant real GDP growth.
Responsible fiscal management has resulted in stable conditions including low inflation and interest rates, a stable kina, a budget surplus and a reduction in public debt.
Despite this, PNG continues to face huge development challenges. Current GDP growth is not considered sufficient to keep pace with population growth.
The economy remains vulnerable to external shocks, particularly from sharp declines in world export commodity prices.
Priority issues include insufficient health, education, transport and public utilities infrastructures, major law and order problems, land ownership issues, corruption and inefficient government, and the threat of environmental degradation and unsustainable resource management.
Piling on to these with potential serious consequences for PNG and the region is the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS. The World Health Organization estimates that 2% (over 100,000) of PNG’s population is HIV positive with another 150 people infected each month.
The government, together with a number of international organizations, is working on the issue. Coping with HIV/AIDS may yet prove the biggest challenge that independent PNG has faced.
Cultural identity plays an important role in the lives and leaderships styles of Papua New Guinean societies and other neighbouring Melanesians nations.
When Papua New Guineans are overseas, they’re very conscious and very proud of their identity. In urban areas, there is probably a much greater sense of belonging to this national entity than in rural areas, where people by and large tend to see very little of the nation and so tend to identify themselves with much smaller groups defined in terms of kinship and language.
People have multiple identities and appear to move adeptly from one to another but there is no doubt that national identity is still very fragile in a place like Papua New Guinea.
This mentality results in people, even politicians and elites, identifying themselves better in groups.
This trend has built up the habit of comfortably working with someone who shares the same language and origin and is likely to be more interested in agreeing to the same principles and strategies for development for the common good.
In deciding the possible strategies for PNG, I believe that cultural understanding and traditional lifestyle norms are of great influence especially in our foreign policy.
Since 1975, when PNG gained independence, our relationship with Australia, our nearest neighbour, has been based on abiding historical, political, economic, strategic and social connections.
Australia is a friendly and sympathetic neighbor and our closest partner in trade and investment, aid support and defence. There are over 7,000 Australians in PNG.
Key aspects of the relationship between Australia and PNG are encompassed in a number of formal bilateral arrangements. Amongst these formal arrangements, the Treaty on Development Cooperation covers what is by far the largest of any of Australia's bilateral aid programs. Australia currently provides more than $500 million in aid to PNG each year.
Papua New Guinea’s foreign policy is also very much influenced by our national interest and cultural identity. Our traditional ways have in one way or another had a huge impact on our foreign relations especially with Australia.
PNG has a unique culture which influences its development decisions for the good of all.
Here in PNG, with Independence Day tomorrow, the streets are painted with red, black and yellow and people everywhere are in traditional attire. So nice, this feeling…
I am proud to be a Papua New Guinean and happy Independence to you all.