Charles Lepani moderates his criticism
Time to rethink when bad guy is king

Australia and NZ are ‘losing the Pacific’

BY CLEO PASKAL

IN EARLY MARCH, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made unusually direct comments to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about America's position in the Pacific.

"Let's just talk straight real politik. We are in competition with China," she said. All over the Pacific, China is trying to "come in behind us and come in under us." And it is working. China's influence in the island nations of the Pacific is growing dramatically, and the repercussions are global.

But the fault does not lie completely with the US, and the win is not completely China's.

The door for China's dramatic increase in influence in the island nations of the Pacific was opened by decades of mismanagement of Pacific affairs by western allies Australia and New Zealand. And if the US and the west want to regain ground, the two Pacific partners are going to have to rethink how they engage with the region.

It should not have come to this. As Clinton noted, the island nations of the Pacific are natural Western allies. "We have a lot of support in the Pacific Ocean region. A lot of those small countries have voted with us in the United Nations, they are stalwart American allies, they embrace our values." The tiny Kingdom of Tonga, population of 100,000, for example, has just sent troops to Afghanistan.

Also, from a real politik point of view, the region has quite a bit to offer. Far from being a bottomless pit of development aid, the Pacific is important economically, politically, and strategically.

Strategically, this vast area is the front line between Asia and the Americas. It is crisscrossed by increasingly important trade routes linking Asia and South America, as well as vitally important transpacific fibre optic cables. It hosts geostrategic military bases. It has safe harbours in allied hands. Especially as China moves down through the South China Sea, keeping the countries of the Pacific safe, stable and friendly is going to be crucial for Western security.

Unfortunately for the west, the challenges to the Pacific partnership are too deep to be solved with a flying visit. The current crop of problems mostly dates back to the end of the Cold War. As the Soviet sphere contracted and imploded, the Pacific seemed to lose its strategic value.

The diplomatic and strategic forward bases of the 'Big Boys', the US and Britain, were scaled back, or shut down, and the security of the region was essentially outsourced to Australia and New Zealand.

On paper, Australia and New Zealand seem up to the job. Their influence is seemingly pervasive [but] part of the problem lies in Australia and New Zealand's confused approach to the Pacific. The main focus seems to have been economics, not security.

Australia and New Zealand's political engagement in the region has been problematic, with American Samoa's member of the US Congress, Eni Faleomavaega, describing it as "inept policies and heavy-handed actions".

In our multi-polar world, when one weakens one's friends, one weakens oneself. And it seems as though for the last little while, Australian and New Zealand policies have weakened the Pacific. The narrow focus on primarily short-term economic benefits to certain nations has to stop. The Pacific is no longer their backyard; it is the new front line.

The Pacific is the west's to lose. And we have been doing a good job of it. It is up to us to say "no more".

Source: Extracted from ‘The World Today’, Volume 67, Number 4, April 2011.  Cleo Paskal is an Associate Fellow for the Energy, Environment and Resource Governance Programme at Chatham House

Comments

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David Kitchnoge

We used to be a "price taker", so to speak, for so long.

But with current demand and supply imbalances created largely by China's insatiable demand for raw materials, natural calamities and political unrests elsewhere, we may now find ourselves in a position where we can be able to hold our own at the negotiating tables.

We just have to understand the current global dynamics better and learn to negotiate our positions better.

Robin Lillicrapp

PNG leaders know, I think, where PNG stands in the world.

She stands insecurely balanced on the directives of the IMF and the World Bank, which entities determine the boundaries within which PNG operates amid the pool of nations.

When rationalising the extent to which sovereignty and nationalism may be measured, PNG always has to battle with the demands by industrial investors eager to utilise her assets.

History past and present shows who triumphs in that conflict.

PMIZ's override local laws to subvert rights and freedoms normally expected to benefit the welfare of PNG workers.

The expected leap in values of energy will largely benefit the oil cartels, not PNG.

Presently, oil from US wells may be ,on average, extracted and processed ready for consumption for under $20 per barrel.

If the current world price is $100+ or - per barrel for imported oil, the expected rises to $150 - $200 p/bl are not going to necessarily alter the extractive price of local oil so the cartel profit margins will be huge.

Will PNG have any say over how much she might expect to receive for her increasingly valuable commodity?

David Kitchnoge

As Arthur Williams says, I do not believe Australia and New Zealand are losing us, as they've never had us. They don’t own us.

Are we not the masters of our own destinies? Are we not supposed to be finding our own place in the global community independent of external influences? Isn't that what it means to be independent?

Instead of making Australia, New Zealand, US, China or even Iraq become the subject of discussion and PNG merely the object, why can we not make PNG the subject of discussion?

We are a sovereign nation and we are free to deal with anyone we deem is necessary as long as that deal results in some kind of a gain for us. In an ideal world, our dealings with the rest of the world should result in a win-win outcome for all concerned.

But it does not always work like that in real life so we should try and put one on them (whoever that may be) because surely they too are looking to put one on us.

Papua New Guineans should make Papua New Guinea the subject of discussion and the centre of the world for us, lest we risk losing the plot while being too concerned about others. We must know where we stand and what our strengths are and to play those strengths.

Arthur Williams

Justice 'Tos' Barnet, a long time ago now, said that the corrupt dealings within the timber exploitation business could not have taken place without corrupt PNG citizens who could be MPs, lawyers, accountants and spivs cavorting with the overseas company bosses.

Today it is the same or similar greedy unthinking PNG elites that have allowed foreigners to get toeholds in all aspects of PNG commercial life.

Perhaps under undue influence, governments relaxed rules on protecting certain activities, which were reserved for citizens only.

We know labour officers fail to demand strict observance of labour laws. Witness recent press report of many non-English speakers driving trucks on an Ela Beach building project under the very noses and eyes of uncaring public servants or the thousands of illegals allowed fleeing the Sepik recently.

We also know that forest officers have allowed illegal logging practices to be the norm in most of PNG forest operations.

For the past 40 years the beady eyes of many foreigners have glimpsed the beautiful forests of PNG and felt saddened that customary tenure system was so strong as to keep over 80% of it for the landowners.

They held conferences and speakfests and used radio programs to inveigle simple landowners into releasing bits and pieces, but still that bloody custom prevailed.

Until now when under the Chief of Chiefs; the Honoured Maimai of NIP; the Paramount this or that; defender of all things traditional he allowed it all to begin to crumble.

The biggest caterpillar in the forests – RH - has gone from the forest to The National newspaper, hotelier, retail trader and now moving into oil palm - an Indonesian favourite tree crop scam where the majority of the republic’s own oil palm projects are illegal; then comes confirmatory revelation that more than two million hectares of jealousy guarded customary indigenous land has gone north, much of it free from land tax for 99 years.

Often such SABLs are merely an excuse to clear fell virgin forest rather than the better selective logging model, which for years now was supposed to be moving to more sustainable downstream timber products.

Francis is China just concentrating on cultural aspects? Or is it merely just bad old economic colonialism?

PNG villagers will most likely find themselves experiencing a newer type of poverty where they could not subsist on their land because it wouldn’t be theirs anymore.

They would be hostages to the big landowning foreigners; existing as cash slaves on the land their ancestors had fought over and bequeathed to them in trust.

Oh, by the way, I think the initial post is arrogant and badly titled because I don’t think Oz or NZ ever “HAD the Pacific” and so could never ever lose it.

PNG had its own indigenous landowners many many thousands of years before the Whiteman even saw the Botany Bay and when Poms were peasants too living in little wattle huts.

Francis Hualupmomi

Australia is playing the wrong card. She should reassess her approach in managing Pacific affairs.

With economic globalisation, interdependence constructs opportunities for developing countries to extend their preferences beyond boundaries to maximise their national interests with other countries such as they have never experienced before - for instance, China.

China has learnt from her past mistakes from Western influence and intrusion, which left her humiliated and ashamed.

Now she is rapidly rebuilding her image through economic modernisation under a Western-led order (US-Liberal order).

China aims to share this experience of success with other developing countries. The success of China's influence in winning the minds and hearts of the Pacific islands is driven by her smart soft power diplomacy.

Australia, in my humble opinion, lacks the art of smart soft power diplomacy in influencing Pacific region.

Smart soft power diplomacy is about attention, attraction and persuasion.

The use of culture in attracting attention and persuading others to ‘want what you want ‘without the use of threats, punishment or force is the key to win the minds and hearts of Pacific island countries.

Australia's soft power approach as a middle power is more like neo-colonialism thus attracting less attention from region.

Australia should rethink her soft power diplomacy to legitimis
ze her leadership in the region. The recent US return to Pacific demonstrates Australia’s declining leadership.

Robin Lillicrapp

If Australia has mismanaged the Pacific with a subsequent rise of dysfunctional relationships among the various parties, it would seem credible to assert that Australia has mismanaged its own economy and future viability.

Australia can no longer be deemed self sufficient. At a pinch, most of the Pacific isles could claim self sufficiency, if necessary, at a most basic level of lifestyle.

Australia's acquiescence to the globalist agenda has resulted in a myriad of devolutionary steps in maintaining national sovereignty in respect of border control, agricultural sufficiency and industrial production capacity etc.

Now the obstacles facing most Aussies are similar in many respects to those of PNGeans; ie, there is a dwindling base of industry, employment opportunity, and the rise of welfare dependence.

Many of the consumer items are imported. Local production has faltered under the weight of wage scales or EPA constraints forcing industry offshore.

Globalist free market economics has also negated the usual growth of local production economies reducing the capacity of nation building in any other way than to resort to import dependence.

Were it not for the resource boom fueled by current global demand, Australia and PNG would be even worse off.

Perhaps we should regard the Pacific as no longer the province of independent island states but as a global region of interdependent cultural entities progressively being forced by dictate and circumstance into an eventual multicultural homogeneity: a veritable new world order of citizenship.

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