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週五, 25 三月 2011 13:27

Security and the Cartography of Pacific Islands Regionalism: The Origins and Evolution of Regional Identity

Richard Herr has taught at the University of Tasmania since his appointment in October 1972 and has held a variety of positions within the University. He is currently the academic coordinator for the Faculty of Law's Parliamentary Law, Practive and Procedure course. He earned a PhD in Political Science from Duke University and, during his academic career; he has written widely on aspects concerning Pacific Island Affairs. Professor Herr has served as a consultant to the Governments of the Pacific Islands region on a range of organizational issues for nearly three decades and most recently on the restoration of democracy in Fiji. He was awarded the Medal in the Order of Australia (OAM) in the 2007 Queen's Birthday Honours List for "service to higher education". In 2002 he was presented with an AusAID Peacebuilder award for his work in the Solomon Islands.

This is an interview with Richard Herr on Australia's role in the Pacific:

Alternative (for readers in China)

In addition to the full text of the speech available below, we have provided a video of his speech at the conference "Mapping and Unmapping the Pacific" on Regionalism in the Pacific:

Alternative (for readers in China)

Security and the Cartography of Pacific Islands Regionalism: The Origins and Evolution of Regional Identity

Drawing the boundaries of a region would appear to be a relatively simple task.  However, 70 years of scholarship analysing the global growth in international regions suggest it is far from easy.  Bruce Russett demonstrated empirically in the 1960s, using rather sophisticated factor analysis, that there were no real “natural” geographic regions.[1] Nevertheless, regionalism as a concept implies geography as a central factor.  A doyen of international regional scholarship, Joseph Nye, makes the point that geography cannot be the sole criterion.  He has argued that the states that comprise a region need both to be geographically proximate and have achieved a high level of interdependence.[2] But, interdependence demands a third element – trust amongst the associated states.  Geographic proximity tends to encourage trust since it enables the routine interactions required to build interdependence.  The shared characteristics such as ethnicity, historical experience, economic ties and the like that often go into a regional definition usually involve proximity.  Yet, although military necessity is another frequently identified rationale for international cooperation, historically, it is as likely to divide contiguous states as unite them.  In brief, the concept of international regions remains definitionally challenging.  Perhaps, the only practical way to map the contours of an international region is to accept a tautology: a region is a region if its members say that it is.


There are complications, nevertheless, even with this temporisation.  Who has the authority to say what a region is?  Here one needs to differentiate between “owners” and “stakeholders” – that is, those that formally constitute a region and those with a significant interest in it.  The distinction is important as this paper argues that ownership of the concept of a Pacific Islands region was in dispute for much of the early years of the post-World War II era.   The issue was largely settled by decolonisation and the decision to retain the colonial era boundaries of the region.   However, the retention of dependencies as co-owners of the concept of the Pacific Islands region and the inclusion of two metropolitan powers within the formal ownership arrangements of the region have continued to create tensions and ambiguities between owners and stakeholders.  These tensions have existed primarily because the independent Island states have maintained the original boundaries of the region.  The emergence of new stakeholders and heightened internal conflicts have raised a second issue with the capacity of member states to decide the boundaries of the Pacific Islands region.  Heretofore, all interdependent arrangements within the Pacific Islands region with limited memberships have been deemed “sub-regional”.[3] This distinction is under pressure now and may well be the most serious challenge to the boundaries of the Pacific Islands region in its history.

Defining a Region


Indigenous assertions that there was a pre-contact of Pacific Islands’ identity has been disputed despite myths of a “Pacific way” or some pan-Pacific brotherhood of peoples uniting all the Pacific Islands together.[4] Modern scholarship does not support extensive geographic awareness across the entire scope of the modern Pacific Islands region amongst pre-contact Pacific peoples.[5] This is not to deny the extensive voyaging and navigational skills of the pre-contact peoples in various parts of the modern Pacific Islands region, which was truly remarkable, provided some peoples with an in-depth knowledge of the area now considered to be the Pacific Islands region.[6] Rather, it is to say that the contours of the contemporary system were not derived from aboriginal foundations of knowledge or cooperation.  The simple fact is that, at least initially, the residents of the Pacific Islands did not define the scope of their neighbourhood.  The Pacific Islands region and its boundaries were, to a real extent, imposed by outsiders – not as a ghetto, perhaps, but for the convenience of the extra-regional powers nonetheless.  The political marvel is that the locals managed to embrace this concept and to make it their own.


The colonial experience was as divisive for Pacific Islanders as it was for peoples in other corners of a world riven by imperialism.  The essentially competitive nature of conquest and subjugation did not tend to promote international cooperation across imperial frontiers.  Nevertheless there were some internationally mitigating factors in the Pacific Islands’ area.  The British Empire, itself very extensive in this area, had its influence further extended by the cubs of the British lion – Australia and New Zealand – who also pursued territorial ambitions with parts of Oceania.  Regionally focused cooperation for administrative efficiency such as the Western Pacific High Commission and the Suva Medical School within the British Empire did promote awareness amongst the dependent peoples from separate colonies of each other but this was scarcely their purpose.  The Pacific Islands Monthly, perhaps, served as the most significant innovation regarding consciousness-raising for Pacific Islands regionalism in the colonial era.  A product of the Great Depression, this English language magazine published in Australia crossed imperial boundaries by satisfying a common need amongst the plantation elites across much of the British and French South Pacific for news of markets, economic trends and political developments.[7]

The Japanese invasion of the European Pacific colonies was an even more powerful, albeit negative, impetus for regional cooperation.  The threat united the Western powers – Australia, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States – in mutual defence of their security and for the protection of their Pacific territories.  The Southwest Pacific and South Pacific theatres of war generated integrated command structures and, consequently, the necessary arrangements for cooperation to prosecute the war.  This identity became especially important to Australia and New Zealand as the middle powers whose security interests were most directly threatened by the Japanese aggression.  Their concerns were to survive the war and so gave rise to the modern regional system.


The ANZACs’ Draft a Blueprint for the Region – Almost

The Anglo-American Caribbean Commission, a wartime measure to provide for economic and social needs of the island peoples in the two countries’ Caribbean dependencies, offered the template for a regional approach in the Pacific.[8] The two ANZAC states promoted the same basic idea at various post-war reconstruction planning sessions of the Allied Powers.  They made little headway with the other Pacific metropolitan powers that were more concerned with re-establishing their colonial control after the war.  After repeatedly being denied effective representation in the broader councils for Allied post-war planning, the two antipodean powers made their own demarche for regional reconstruction through the Agreement between Australia and New Zealand (ANZAC Pact) in February 1944.

This agreement proposed two post-war regional associations for the South Pacific.  The more important, from an Australian perspective, was one that provided for a regional security system that would stretch from Portuguese East Timor to French Polynesia.  This one would include all the Western colonial holdings (once these were restored to their metropoles) within its ambit. Seven stakeholders were identified for this association – the six allied powers plus Portugal, which was officially neutral during the war.  The second of the regional associations in the ANZAC Pact proposed a trust arrangement to promote the welfare of the dependent peoples.  This arrangement excluded the Netherlands and Portugal from participation and therefore their territories were excluded from the trusteeship region.  The omission of Portugal and the Netherlands was almost certainly due to an anthropological presumption that the dependent peoples of these two states were not genuinely South Pacific Islanders but belonged to Southeast Asia.


The 1944 ANZAC Pact was a brave but almost futile declaration in terms of generating international support for its regionalist intentions.  It was only Australian persistence and a concession to abandon the security scheme that finally won a grudging willingness from the other metropolitan powers to meet in Canberra in February 1947 to discuss the ANZACs’ proposal for regional cooperation based on the welfare of the Pacific Islanders.  The 1944 Pact did not include either the Dutch or the Portuguese in the welfare body but the Netherlands was invited to the 1947 meeting when it promised not to include the bulk of its East Indies colony within the proposed body.  The Netherlands sought only to add West New Guinea, a territory with people indistinguishable from those across the border in Australia’s Papua New Guinea.[9] Portuguese involvement, on the other hand, appears not to have been reconsidered despite Australia’s debt of gratitude to the people of East Timor for their valiant assistance to Australian troops during the war.

The “South Seas Regional Commission Conference” made most of the critical decisions regarding the scope of the South Pacific region.  Given that the intention of the proposed body was to promote “the advancement and well-being of the native peoples” of the area, the first key decision was in inviting those imperial powers that Australia deemed had the appropriate indigenous peoples whose welfare was to be promoted.  Portugal was out but so too was Chile.   Chile administered the furthest outpost of Polynesia, the sparsely populated Easter Island.  Japan, which possessed much of Micronesia at the start of the war, was not included in the 1944 proposal for fairly obvious reasons.  Still, it is interesting to note that the native peoples of the Japanese Pacific Islands empire do not seemed to have been considered as eligible candidates even by the new American administration after the war.  In 1947, the United Nations passed control over these islands formally to the US but the American Government was allowed to treat these islands as a security asset, indeed, as had Japan under a League of Nations’ mandate.  In early 1947, the future of America’s new Micronesian islands were too uncertain to be deemed eligible for the proposed regional welfare agency.

The status of its Micronesian territories was not the only decision the United States had to make regarding its dependencies in the Pacific.   The Philippines was not considered at all as it had been promised independence and, in any case, it would have been regarded as ineligible on the same grounds as the Dutch East Indies by Australia and New Zealand.  Guam had been reclaimed but was still separate from the ambit of the proposed South Seas Regional Commission by the extensive expanse of the former Japanese Micronesian islands.  Hawaii was the largest Polynesian dependency in the Pacific but the local non-Polynesian population and Washington had plans for a future that did not include separation from the US.  Initially, therefore, the American delegation to Canberra brought only one territory to the table – the small Polynesian territory of American Samoa.

Australia was the only other participant to face territorial dilemmas regarding the geographic scope of the proposed region.  As with the US decision on Hawaii, the Australian Government gave short shrift to suggestions that the Aborigines of the Northern Territory or that the Torres Strait people should be included in the operational area of the South Seas Regional Commission.  More problematic was the case of Norfolk Island.  This tiny island between Australia and New Caledonia was peopled by the descendents of the Bounty mutineers who were relocated from Pitcairn in the 1850s.  Later, many of these returned to Pitcairn with the result that Britain included this miniscule territory within the proposed Commission’s scope.  The uncertain status of Norfolk Island as Australian domestic territory and the origins of its people saw Norfolk included within the defined region but not convincingly.[10]

There was one other territorial quibble at the South Seas Regional Commission Conference regarding the scope of the proposed region but one with profound political implications for the future development of South Pacific regionalism.  The standing of Tonga was disputed.  This ancient Polynesia kingdom had never been colonised.  By treaty, Tonga was a British protected state but it remained formally independent.  Thus, the Tongans were unwilling to be defined as a “dependent people” although the UK Government wanted them included in the organisation’s work programme.  Again, early maps of the Commission’s boundaries were instructive as they drew a dotted line across the bottom of the Tongan “enclave” to show that it was included in the SPC’s work programme while the solid line on the other three sides indicated Tonga was, to some extent, apart from the rest of the region.  The significance of this was not so much that Tonga was not being regarded as part of the region.  Rather, it was that Tonga was in the region.  Being eligible as a beneficiary of the SPC’s work programme, Tonga was deemed ineligible from ownership of the SPC’s region.[11]

The SPC Defines the Region – Ultimately?


Although the ANZAC states did not achieve all their aims, the South Seas Regional Commission Conference did reach a successful conclusion from their perspective.  The six participating states signed a treaty (the Canberra Agreement) to establish the South Pacific Commission (SPC)[12] but without the mandate for political development that the two sponsoring states had wanted.  Thus, for the first time, the most of the Pacific Islands were united in a region-defining cooperative enterprise yet not one of their making. The 1947 Canberra Agreement delineated a region but it had not yet defined the Pacific Islands region.  This point may have come in 1951 when the SPC reached its greatest extent following the successful bid by the United States to add Guam and the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI) to the SPC’s ambit.[13] At this point, the South Pacific region stretched from the Northern Marianas to Norfolk Island along one axis and from the Pitcairn Islands to West New Guinea on the other.

This geographic span lasted scarcely more than a decade.  In 1962, the Dutch were expelled from West New Guinea and withdrew from the SPC.  The Indonesians were not of a mind to succeed the Dutch vacancy in the SPC on behalf of West New Guinea (renamed West Irian) nor did any SPC member encourage Jakarta to pursue the possibility.  Nonetheless, the loss of the Dutch territory profoundly influenced the course of Pacific Islands regionalism.  The idea that external decisions could decide who was or was not a Pacific Islander shocked some Island elites who were becoming more self-conscious of a regional identity due to both the interactions available through the SPC and the ‘winds of change” beginning to stir across the South Pacific.  The SPC had made provision for a triennial advisory meeting of Islanders through an organ called the South Pacific Conference.  The first of these met in 1950 and there were five including the ill-fated 1962 Conference in Pago Pago, American Samoa where the West New Guinea delegates wept bitter tears in the knowledge they would never sit together with those that they had come to regard as fellow Pacific Islanders.

The second critical definitional influence on South Pacific regionalism in 1962 was the independence of Western Samoa.[14] As the first dependent territory to reclaim its sovereignty, Samoa opened a number of problematic issues about the nature of the SPC as a regional organisation.  The capacity of a “non-dependent” people to continue to benefit from the work programme of the SPC was fairly easily resolved in Samoa’s favour.  Apia’s unexpected desire to accede to the Canberra Agreement, however, provoked a three-year test of wills that transformed the concept of ownership of the region.  When Samoa succeeded in joining the Commission in 1965, the entire exclusionary approach to membership in the SPC and, with it, external ownership of the regional identity, was overturned.


From 1965, the SPC’s Western members were confronted with a two-pronged challenge to their control of South Pacific regionalism.  Decolonisation would increasingly add to the number of states with the eligibility to follow Samoa’s path into formal Commission membership through accession to the Canberra Agreement.  The second prong led to reform of the Conference to allow the dependent territories to have a greater say over the organisation’s work programme through this organ.  Regionalism and regional identity would never again be the preserve of extra-regional states.  The authentic boundaries of the Pacific Islands region would only be drawn by the inhabitants of the region not by those outside who claimed to know what was best for them.


The Forum and the SRO – A Need to Redraw the Regional Boundaries?

The dramatic failure to reform the SPC at the South Pacific Conference meeting in Suva in late 1970 was a critical turning point in regional affairs.  It forced a fundamental shift in Pacific Islander attitudes toward the nature of South Pacific regionalism but, critically, not the definition of the region’s boundaries.  In this regard, the Pacific Islands pursued a different regional path than that taken by the Caribbean Islands when confronted with the same political crossroads the Pacific Islands faced in 1970.  In the process of morphing from the Anglo-American Caribbean Commission into the Caribbean Commission the concept of the region shrank in the minds of the “owners” of the regional identity.  Its boundaries were redrawn.  The perceived boundaries of the Caribbean region were diminished in scope by the exclusion of non-independent territories.  The concept of an integrated Caribbean regional system has never recovered the breadth of the Commission had in the 1950s.[15]

Pacific Islands’ regionalism could have opted for the exclusionary road taken by the Caribbean states but it did not.  There were strands of development that might have taken it down the Caribbean path.  Five countries within the SPC region became independent or self-governing by the time of the 1970 South Pacific Conference – Western Samoa, Cook Islands, Nauru, Tonga and Fiji.  Four of these countries established a body in 1964, outside the SPC framework, called the Pacific Islands Producers Association (PIPA), which served as a minor marketing arrangement mainly with New Zealand.[16] PIPA provided a mechanism to regroup after the disappointment of the Suva Conference.  Had it become the vehicle for herr5independent political cooperation, the Pacific may well have followed the Caribbean path.[17] A second important influence was the desire to exclude the colonial powers that had blocked political reform in the SPC.  This attitude toward the colonial powers in the Caribbean was a significant factor in the exclusionary approach taken by the independent states there.

However, the four independent members of PIPA members in consultation with Nauru recognised their very real limitations as international powers, and so adopted a more pragmatic approach to creating regional capacity.  Australia and New Zealand were invited to join the five independent and self-governing states in a new political association.  This pragmatism went so far as to ask New Zealand to host what was to be the first meeting of the South Pacific Forum in Wellington in August 1971.  Clearly, the Pacific Island states did not want to exclude all the metropolitan powers from their next stage in South Pacific regionalism even though a significant rationale for the initiative was to exclude some; those powers – France, the United Kingdom and the United States – perceived to be obstructionist.  More importantly, the Island member of the South Pacific Forum (or “FICs” as an acronym for Forum Island countries) did not want to exclude the territories that were ineligible for membership in the Forum even, or perhaps more correctly, especially those territories under the administration of the metropolitan powers that were excluded.  Moreover, none of the members of the new South Pacific Forum members resigned from the Commission or the Conference subsequently.  Thus, from the very outset of the Forum arrangement, the conceptual boundaries of the region remained the geographic scope of the SPC.

There were several reasons why the operational scope of the South Pacific region was not redefined with the advent of the Forum.  Perhaps the most important reason was that even the Forum’s Island members had not given up on reforming the SPC.   Just how this long-term aspiration for reform was to be expressed in the context of the new Forum relations was rather inchoate for several years. In part, this stemmed from some initial confusion as to the Forum’s real purpose as demonstrated by Australia’s faux pas in sending Charles Barnes, the Minister for External Territories, to the first Forum meeting in Wellington as its representative.  Canberra appeared to inadvertently reveal a colonial bias contrary to the new direction that Pacific Islands’ regionalism was taking.   On the other hand the three excluded metropoles were generally relaxed regarding the political initiative.  They tended to see the regional scheme as a localised development that was largely irrelevant to the future of their territories in the South Pacific.  This attitude might have been expected from France and the US but is less explicable in the case of the UK since the Forum, in 1971, was made up entire of FICs with Commonwealth connections.  The developments at the next meeting of the Forum, however, clarified some of the risks and challenges posed to the established pattern of regional relations by the establishment of the Forum.

Australia convened the second meeting of the Forum in Canberra and, correcting the error in Wellington, Prime Minister William McMahon hosted his fellow Heads of Government.  A number of questions were resolved at the Canberra meeting that bore significantly on the future of regionalism in the Pacific Islands.  The first was a decision not to create the Forum as a legal entity in its own right.  The model chosen was a direct crib from the Commonwealth of Nations’ Heads of Government Meetings.  It was to be a club that operated on club rules rather than international legal obligations.  So, what were the rules for entry to this rather exclusive regional club?  An Australian proposal to invite Papua New Guinea (PNG) to join the Forum at its next meeting resulted in a “full and frank” debate on membership.  PNG was on the verge of self-government[18] and, Australia argued that this would the same status as the Cook Islands, which was a founding member of the Forum.  Fiji argued against the nomination on the grounds that, unlike the Cooks, self-government was not the “final” status for PNG and so there would be many uncertainties as to PNG’s capacity within the Forum until it settled its independence issues.  A compromise was reached that offered PNG observer status in the Forum until independence when it would be eligible for full membership.

The ambiguities in concept of “eligibility” for membership in the Forum were also apparent in the criteria for the intergovernmental organisation (IGO) established at the second Forum.[19] Despite having PIPA, at least potentially, available as an economic IGO to be revamped to suit the Forum’s needs, the second Forum agreed to establish a new, OECD-style economic advisory body to be known as the South Pacific Bureau for Economic Cooperation (SPEC).[20] Article XI (2) of the SPEC Agreement states:

The signature of a member government shall not be taken as extending the rights and obligations set forth in this Agreement to the territories for whose international relations the member government is responsible.

The intention was to ensure the compromise with regard to PNG’s membership would not be undone in SPEC.  Significantly, nothing in the SPEC Agreement specified the operational scope of SPEC; only that its membership would be determined by the Forum.[21] Yet, it was commonly understood at time that recruitment into the Forum and into SPEC would only be from the Pacific Island countries (PICs) of the SPC.  This “understanding” soon set in train a contest for ownership of the agreed concept of the region – an extended debate that was to become known as the “single regional organisation” (SRO) issue.

A confluence of interests following the formation of the Forum merged the ANZAC powers’ desire for greater economic efficiencies in aid to a region that absorbed very large shares of their overseas assistance and the FICs’ desire for greater control of the regional agenda.  However, the locking of horns over where ultimate control of the Pacific Islands region rested – SPC or Forum – was only possible because proponents on both sides agreed there was only one region.   SPEC provided the catalyst for the first shots in the debate.  SPEC’s inaugural Executive Secretary, Mahe Tupouniua, had been only the second “commoner” to attain ministerial office in the Kingdom of Tonga.  He applied his redoubtable energy, intellect and drive to making a success of SPEC.  In March 1974, less than a year after SPEC was established, it absorbed PIPA’s functions and PIPA itself was terminated.[22] The realisation that the functions of one regional organisation could be transferred to another was undoubtedly a critical inspiration for the SRO.  The report of SPEC’s 1976 review of regional aid delivery found that better coordination of aid would produce more effective aid enabling the donors to achieve the efficacy they desired and the Island polities would secure improved outcomes.[23] The perceived duplication of effort between SPEC and the SPC interfered with achieving these efficiencies.  Thus, it was argued, aid impacts could be enhanced if the two organisations were merged.

The SRO issue did not influence in any material way the contours of the Pacific Islands regional borders since it was predicated on keeping those of the SPC as they were.   Rather, it was the fact that the Forum accepted these boundaries as valid that is important for the present argument.  Basically, the FICs sought to use the Forum as a parallel vehicle to pursue the decolonisation of the SPC in order to preserve the integrity of the region as defined by the SPC.  Yet confusion regarding the SRO concept and, perhaps, a lack of a real commitment to the objective were evident almost immediately the debate was joined.  In 1978, the Forum members established the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) as an independent IGO despite officially maintaining a need for a single regional organisation.  The contradiction was not lost on critics of the SRO proposal but there was no slackening in the efforts by the proponents of an SRO for another decade.[24]

While the SRO imbroglio did not involve a reconsideration of the outer boundaries of the Pacific Islands’ region it did throw up some interesting conundrums relating to internal stakeholders and ownership of the concept of the region.  Perhaps the first test of ownership versus being a legitimate stakeholder after the decision regarding PNG’s eligibility for Forum membership arose in connection with Guam in 1984.  Guam was a participant in a project searching for hydrocarbons amongst the Pacific's atolls managed by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) through a Committee for the Coordination of Offshore Prospecting/South Pacific (CCOP/SOPAC).  Despite the SRO issue, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed in 1984 to commission CCOP/SOPAC as a regional IGO.  All of the body's members were Forum members except for Guam yet none of the other participants wanted Guam excluded under the new arrangements.[25] A bit of legal legerdemain and a willingness of member states to look the other way allowed Guam to remain a stakeholder in, albeit not a co-owner of, the regional organisation.  Guam was included in the MOU’s preamble as a participating member but not listed amongst the signatories to the MOU.[26]

The membership complications of the SRO issue were perhaps most spectacularly revealed in the resolution of the status of SPREP.  A South Pacific “Regional Seas” project of the United Nations Environment Program became a subject of the SRO rivalry.  The compromise was a hybrid inter-institutional administrative arrangement to manage the South Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP).  The SPC housed the program and provided the secretariat services while SPEC chaired the SPREP executive.  Spurred by the increasing funding available for environmental projects in the 1980s, the Forum sought exclusive control of SPREP.  However, as an SPC based program its activities reached across the entire ambit of the SPC region.  If the Forum were to incorporate SPREP as an IGO within its family of agencies, this would alienate the non-FIC Islands from its work.  Such exclusion was unacceptable to these territories. The Convention for the Protection of the Natural Resources and Environment of the South Pacific Region [1986] accentuated the challenge posed by the non-FIC Island participants in SPREP by including all the PICs within the scope of the Convention.[27] Additionally there would be the probable loss of financial support from those metropolitan SPC members (France, UK and US) that would not be in the Forum arrangement.  Finally the international community would have had some doubts about a regional program that defined the Pacific Islands region more narrowly than SPREP's original area of coverage.  Yet again, another compromise proved necessary and, again, inclusiveness at the regional level won out.  A 1991 ministerial meeting of SPREP participants agreed to reconstitute SPREP as an IGO with a headquarters in Samoa and retaining a membership essentially the same as the SPC’s South Pacific Conference.[28]

The SRO debate ended essentially with the creation of the South Pacific Organisations Coordinating Committee (SPOCC) in 1988.  Establishment of SPOCC was intended to achieve greater technical and administrative efficiencies through easier collaboration between member agencies and, hopefully, to avoid the charge of duplication and waste, which was the ostensible rationale for the SRO proposal.  SPOCC was misnamed, however, to some extent since it did not have the power to coordinate the affairs of its member agencies.[29] Rather it served as an advisory arrangement to the parent bodies through their secretariats.   Further evidence of the commitment to inclusiveness within the boundaries of the region regardless of political status was given when SPOCC changed its name to the Council of Regional Organisations in the Pacific (CROP) in 1999.  This was, in part, a consequence of a couple of important name changes to delete "South Pacific" from some regional agency names.  “South Pacific" was seen by some as inappropriate because the region's ambit included islands above the Equator and so was a slight to them.  This issue had proved a challenge to the SPC from the early 1960s but no consensus could be found as an alternative until Dr Bob Dun, then Secretary-General of the SPC, forced renaming the South Pacific Commission as the "Pacific Community" in 1997.[30]

Resolving the SRO issue may have helped to promote some more liberal inclusiveness within the Forum.  New Caledonia (1999) and French Polynesia (2004) were admitted into the Forum as observers despite no general acceptance that they were clearly on a path to a final political status that achieved at least effective internal self-government if not full independence. France that had lobbied long along with these territories for their inclusion and, in part, this was a reward to Paris for finally ending nuclear testing in the Pacific in 1996 and the accords setting out the options for New Caledonia’s future.[31] The two French territories were given a closer relationship with the Forum in 2006 through the creation of an “Associate Member” status.  At the same Forum, another French territory, Wallis and Futuna, was given admission as an Observer.[32] This tranche of expansion in the Forum’s participation provided the first partial, but very minor, tweaking of the regional boundaries since the SPC’s boundaries reached their zenith in the early 1950s.  Essentially at Canberra’s insistence, the Forum granted Timor-Leste “special observer status” in 2002, which was subsequently confirmed as an Observer under the new rules.

Security and the Future of Pacific Islands Regionalism

What security gave in creating the contours of the contemporary Pacific Islands region it may someday take away.  As has been argued, the pursuit of security played an integral part in creating the Pacific Islands region albeit not directly.  The ANZAC Pact of 1944 proposed two differently configured regions for the South Pacific.  The military alliance advanced in the 1944 treaty did not eventuate but the participation of the other four Western powers in the SPC in 1947 was intended to reassure Australia and New Zealand of their cooperation in regional affairs with the ANZACs despite the absence of a formal defence arrangement.  The value of the SPC for Australian and New Zealand security ambitions proved inadequate and the US had to find a more direct defence association with the deepening of the Cold War in the early 1950s.  In order to secure ANZAC support for a “soft” peace treaty with Japan to strengthen Cold War containment aims, the United States negotiated a defence alliance with Australia and New Zealand in 1951.[33] The ANZUS Pact was neither as regionally comprehensive as the arrangement proposed in the 1944 ANZAC Pact nor was it as strong as the NATO structure for which Australia argued.  Nevertheless, it was a defence alliance and it did provide a regional coverage.[34] The requirement to consult amongst the treaty parties was activated by Article V of the ANZUS Treaty, which held:

an armed attack on any of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of any of the Parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific or on its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.”

By the terms of the treaty, the geographic reach of its operation was potentially anywhere in the Pacific where troops or any vessel with an ANZUS member state flag might be.  However, the practical geographic extent was the homelands and Pacific dependencies of the three member states.  This was underscored when Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies apparently asked the US Administration of John Kennedy in the early 1960s if the ANZUS provision for military assistance would be triggered should Canberra go to the aid of the embattled Netherlands in West New Guinea.  The response did not encourage any expectation of help if Australian troops came under fire in an engagement outside Australian territory.[35]

The American commitment to ANZUS really only became more than minor and largely ceremonial with the advent of the US intervention in Viet Nam in the mid 1960s.  Annual ministerial consultations, shared defence facilities and joint manoeuvres emerged to draw the three states parties together for perceived mutual security but the ANZUS focus was in Southeast Asia rather than the Pacific Islands.  It was not until 1976 that ANZUS discovered a need for a regional string to its Pacific security planning.  The number of territories achieving independence had reached a critical mass as evidenced by the creation of the South Pacific Forum in 1971.  The significance of this continuing wave of independence for Western security interests struck home rather dramatically (some might argue, over dramatically) in April 1976 when the Soviet Union established diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Tonga.  The ANZUS Council of Ministers meeting in June of that year proposed inter alia to address the Soviet challenge by promoting regional solidarity amongst the generally pro-Western FICs.  Regional coherence was made a critical plank in what came to be known “strategic denial”, an approach that was basically an extension of the general American policy of containment against the Soviet Union.[36] Whether strategic denial actually worked can be debated but there was every expectation at the time in the three ANZUS capitals that regional solidarity was the key to preventing the USSR from exploiting the individual weaknesses of the Pacific microstates.

Significantly, while the ANZUS regional strategy did not depend on the SPC’s regional boundaries, broader Western security interests for the entire region did interlock to some extent within the SPC’s operational ambit.  NATO linked the security interests of the three non-Forum metropolitan powers in the region – France, United Kingdom and United States – although not directly the mutual protection of their Pacific possessions.  France and the UK were individually responsible for their territories but the US enjoyed some shared alliance support through the ANZUS Treaty.  However, the critical issue at the time was not the dependencies but the independent FICs that had the capacity to act self-interestedly and autonomously with any extra-regional power they might choose.  Thus, the ANZUS regional approach to strategic denial relied on the privileged position that Australia and New Zealand occupied in the Forum as something more than just key stakeholders.[37] Their hegemony in this powerful regional association and the application of soft power rather than military-based relations were meant to reduce the sort of aberrant behaviour amongst the FICs that could lead to a Pacific “Cuba”.

Not without irony, the assumption of ANZAC hegemony and the coincidence of Western security interests was challenged in following decade by the same division that provoked the split within the SPC leading to the creation of the Forum.  This was the cleavage separating the nuclear powers and the non-nuclear powers.  By the mid 1980s, Labour parties beset by intra-party divisions over security participation with nuclear capable states governed both Australia and New Zealand.  Partially as a response to these pressures the two agreed to promote a regional nuclear weapons free zone in the South Pacific.  The FICs were happy to embrace the resurrection of a concept that enjoyed their support at the very instigation of the Forum.  The Forum states signed the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty (SPNFZ or Treaty of Rarotonga) in August 1985 at their annual leaders meeting.[38] The ANZAC powers found to their chagrin that they had miscalculated the effect of SPNFZ on the permanent five members of the UN Security Council.  The two had hoped that SPNFZ would eliminate any non-Western nuclear interest in the region while cementing the conventional weapons predominance of the West in the Pacific Islands.  In the event, the PRC and the USSR quickly associated themselves with SPNFZ by signing the appropriate protocols to the treaty but the three Western powers rejected the treaty and its protocols.[39]

Tensions within ANZUS over regional policy were intensified at this time by other factors.  New Zealand’s domestic anti-nuclear weapons policy alienated the US when Wellington insisted that Washington identify nuclear equipped vessels before allowing port access.  The breach had New Zealand suspended from ANZUS activities when Australia supported the US against New Zealand.[40] Unrelated but paralleling these developments, Kiribati lost patience with the US over its refusal to accept coastal state management of the highly migratory species of tuna, which constituted a principal known natural resource.  In August 1985, it signed a fisheries access agreement with the USSR.  The agreement only lasted a year and was not renewed due to a Soviet Oceanic Fisheries Department demand for reduced fees.  Vanuatu had acquired reputation as a somewhat aberrant actor within the region following its independence in 1980.  It accepted relations with Cuba and Libya, presumed Soviet surrogates, and the ni-Vanuatu Government signed a fisheries access arrangement with the USSR shortly after the i-Kiribati agreement lapsed.  Vanuatu took a leading role in the region opposing colonialism and nuclear weapons, especially testing by one of its erstwhile administering powers – France.  Thus, even as the Cold War was on the verge of collapse, the value of the regional security consensus within the Forum was being sorely tested.  Whether it would have been viable had Cold War tensions continued is moot but the Western powers were making adjustments in aid, fisheries policy and the like to maintain a soft power capacity for significant influence within the Pacific Islands region to maintain influence.

The perceived security value of Pacific Islands’ regionalism changed with the end of the Cold War.  From 1976 to the end of the 1980s, regionalism served as a vehicle to help maintain some Western security interests.  This is not to say that no FIC security interests were served.  There was some mutuality; some perceived physical security benefits for the FICs as in SPNFZ; and, most importantly for the Islands, some benefits with economic and human security through agencies such as the FFA.  Nevertheless, for nearly a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was a decline in external security interest as Western powers such as the US and UK began reducing their effort in the region.  Even Russia, which had finally secured a diplomatic mission (in Port Moresby) just before the collapse of the USSR, found little reason to stay.  There were security issues such as money laundering, the sale of passports, resource poaching, flags of convenience and the like but the international community generally left such issues to bilateral or intra-regional action.  The Forum approved programs to strengthen policing capacity, cooperation on information and intelligence sharing; transport and communications security and the like from the early 1990s.  A Forum Regional Security Committee was formed in 1992 essentially to coordinate the efforts against transnational crime.  Throughout the decade of the 1990s, a series of declarations were drafted by the Forum to strengthen the rule of law and security established a political framework for enhancing the collective regional capacity to assist individual FIC members to meet their sovereign responsibilities with regard to internal security.[41]

A fundamental change occurred following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.  International perceptions of the risks posed by fragile and failing states rewrote security analysts’ assessments of the potential exploitation of the vulnerabilities of the Pacific Islands.[42] A regional response regained favour with the two ANZAC powers – this time to deal the non-state threat of terrorism.  Again, the Forum was the principal instrument.  At the urging of its Australasian members, the Forum responded with the 2002 Nasonini Declaration on regional security and terrorism and expanded the work of the Forum Regional Security Committee to include terrorism within its remit.  The Australian and New Zealand Governments also strongly supported relevant action through other regional agencies.  This included the SPC’s Regional Maritime Programme, which aided the implementation of the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code.  Through chairing CROP, the Forum was able to influence the entire region but this was enhanced from 2005 with the adoption of the “Pacific Plan”.[43] The Plan was endorsed by all agencies and their members (more or less) to rationalise regional institutional architecture and to promote regional integration in order to strengthen state capacity across the region.  The strengthening of the role of the Forum would also further entrench the position of Australia and New Zealand in the regional system as non-resident co-owners.


It is beyond the scope of the present paper to detail in full the speculation presently circulating regarding the pressures within the Forum arising from internal security concerns.  Yet, it is possible that the new tensions could actually redraw the boundaries of the Pacific Islands region.  The Pacific Plan’s roadmap to closer regional integration has provoked concerns as to the hegemonic role that Australia and New Zealand play within the present regional architecture. However, it is the 2000 Biketawa Declaration that has raised the spectre of a serious pushing these concerns to the level of being a threat to the Forum as a “regional” organisation.[44] The Biketawa Declaration was a Forum response to coups in both Fiji and the Solomon Islands in 2000.  By it, the Forum leaders committed themselves inter alia to, “upholding democratic processes and institutions”. The Declaration also included options for sanctions including “if necessary, targeted measures.”[45] The application of sanctions in support of the principles of the Biketawa Declaration against the post-2006 coup Government in Fiji has become increasingly controversial. The Government of Commodore Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama, in power since a military coup in December 2006, has taken particular exception to the use of the Forum to impose sanctions against it seeing Australia and New Zealand as the principal instigators of these sanctions.[46] Bainimarama therefore has appealed increasingly to regional neighbours to resist the ANZAC influence in the Forum.


Bainimarama has turned to the sub-regional association, the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), as the mechanism for his regional fight back.   The MSG was formed in 1988 by three Melanesian states to express solidarity for the decolonisation of the French territory of New Caledonia.[47] Fiji joined the MSG in 1996[48] and, in 1988, the four states signed the Agreement Establishing The Melanesian Spearhead Group association, which gave the group legal personality and so transformed it into an IGO.  There is an historical irony in contemporary Fiji’s use of the MSG against the Forum. Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, Fiji’s first Prime Minister and the acknowledged architect of PIC regionalism, feared that sub-regionalism might destroy the broader regional system.  This fear looms much larger now as a real prospect with the divide between the Forum and MSG over Fiji driving the wedge between the two levels of association.[49] Bainimarama’s appeals to the MSG appear to have elicited some very positive responses.  For example, all the MSG leaders visited Fiji shortly after the 2009 Forum and expressed their support for Bainimarama despite having endorsed the decision at the Forum to continue the sanctions against Fiji.  There have been a number of similar and important gestures since.[50]

Fiji’s Prime Minister may have recently pushed the MSG wedge to the point where it may actually fracture the region.   In preparing to host the 2010 MSG meeting, where he would become MSG Chair, Bainimarama indicated that he would invite FICs not members of the MSG to attend as observers, the “MSG Plus” arrangement.[51] The prospect that, as Chair, he would be able to use the MSG as a vehicle to re-create the Forum without Australia and New Zealand raised such concern in Canberra and Wellington that steps were taken to prevent Fiji from taking over the Chair.  Whatever the actual involvement in the decision by then ni-Vanuatu Prime Minister Edward Natapei’s decision to cancel the 2010 MSG leaders meeting, Bainimarama reacted strongly to perceived Australian and New Zealand involvement by expelling their senior representatives in Suva.  Natapei’s decision was repudiated by other MSG countries soon afterwards and, when Natapei lost the prime ministership, arrangements were made within the MSG to apologise and return the Chair to Fiji.  The Solomon Islands hosted a ceremony of apology where the Chair was passed the Solomon Islands, which then immediately passed it on to Fiji.  Whether Bainimarama will now continue to pursue the  ”MSG Plus” option is open but, if he does, the older concept of the Pacific Islands region may not survive the challenge.  It seems unlikely that “MSG Plus” could replace the Pacific Islands Forum even though it could preserve the long-standing boundaries of the Pacific Islands region.  Nevertheless, there could little doubt that a viable MSG Plus and an attempt to retain the Forum intact would revive many of the features of the older SRO issue.



Mapping the boundaries of the Pacific Islands region has been a long odyssey and one that continues today.  This cartographic exercise is interesting not so much because the boundaries have been in dispute.  They have not been for sometime.  Indeed, the only real change in the last 60 years has been the exclusion of West New Guinea (1962) and the very recent, and very limited, attempt to include Timor-Leste.  Rather the tensions have risen from defending the agreed boundaries.  Initially, these stemmed from disputed ownership of the region.  Extra-regional colonial powers created the region but the residents of the region wanted to take possession of it through a process of decolonisation.  The desire for complete ownership of the region was so strong amongst the Island peoples that, even when it became clear that decolonisation would not deliver absolute ownership of the region to them, they refused to redefine the boundaries of the Pacific Islands region in the way the Caribbean peoples had Caribbean regionalism.

Creation of the South Pacific Forum became a significant test of what was the authentic Pacific Islands region.  The inclusion of Australia and New Zealand created an anomaly in the distinction between owners and stakeholders.  The two Western states clearly constituted a special category of stakeholders but, without changing the region’s boundaries, they became owners as well. This imposes a sort of political schizophrenia on Pacific Islands regionalism since in the case of the FFA and SPNFZ boundaries; for example, parts of the two are included within the region’s operational ambit.  The single regional organisation row both demonstrated that the SPC’s boundaries were the region and that the FICs were not prepared to concede ownership rights even to those PICs that had not yet secured control of their own destinies.  Since the FICs were unable to relax their commitment to either tenet, they had to temporise, which they did through the establishment of SPOCC (now CROP).  This has allowed the continuation of “two speed” regional integration across the expanse of the Pacific Islands.

Recently, issues of internal security (as opposed to the external security concerns that served as a catalyst for creating the region) have threatened the coherence and, possibly, the regional system itself.  The attempt to strengthen state capacity through regional mechanisms, especially the Pacific Plan, has generated increasing tensions with regard to Fiji since the December 2006 military coup.  Never before had regional machinery been used punitively against a member and Fiji, not alone, has felt this to be a misuse of the regional system.  The Government of Frank Bainimarama has been resisting this pressure by accentuating the anomalous role that Australia and New Zealand have in the Pacific Islands regional system.  Fiji’s attempt to reinvent a Forum without the participation of the two Western powers was only partially successful but the contest of wills over the MSG Plus proposal seems destined to leave serious scars regionally.  Being supplemented by closer ties with Asia and the promotion of other exclusionary mechanisms such as the Pacific Small Islands Developing States group (PSIDS) at the United Nations, Fiji has thrown down a diplomatic gauntlet that might appear to be only an ownership/stakeholder issue.  However, the MSG is an ethnically based association, which cannot remain true to its origins and provide a comfortable home to Polynesian states such as Samoa.  Should the current divisions intensify, one option may well be for the MSG to abandon its “sub-regional” status and claim full regional standing.  Where this would leave the Pacific Islands region is anyone’s guess but it would force a very serious redrafting of the regional atlas of the Pacific Islands.

[1] Bruce M. Russett, International Regions and the International System: A Study in Political Ecology (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1967)

[2] Joseph Nye (ed.) International Regionalism, (Boston: Little Brown and Co. 1968), xii.

[3] As will be addressed below, the membership of the Pacific Islands Forum and other agencies are not conterminous with the functional scope of the Pacific Islands region but they are not regarded as sub-regional since their potential membership pool is all within the region.

[4] This was a common theme in the early years.  See, for examples: “Twenty-fifth Anniversary Messages”, South Pacific Bulletin, XXII (October 2, 1972), p 19.

[5] Gordon R. Lewthwaite, “Geographic Knowledge of the Pacific Peoples” in Herman R. Friis (ed), The Pacific Basin (New York: American Geographical Society, 1967), pp 51-86.

[6] Naming the region has been somewhat more difficult than identifying its reach.  The “South Seas” was in common use from the advent of extensive European contact until the early/mid 20th Century.   From the end of WW II until the late 1990s, the region was generally referred to as the “South Pacific” when the term “Pacific Islands” became the preferred usage.  “Oceania” was once popular in anthropological circles but not in general use.

[7] W.D. Forsyth, “South Pacific”, New Guinea and Australia, the Pacific and South-East Asia, VI (September-October, 1971), p 8.

[8] This organisation, founded in 1942, was expanded in 1946 to include the Netherlands and the United Kingdom and so comprised four of the SPC’s six member states.  See: Herbert Corkran, Patterns of International Cooperation in the Caribbean, 1942-1969 (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1970).

[9] This was an extraordinary political concession at the time since the Dutch were still fighting to preserve their hold over the entire colony.

[10] Early maps of the scope of the South Pacific Commission show Norfolk Island as included but this was later disputed by Australia when the Norfolk Government attempted to use this as a lever for greater autonomy from Australia.

[11] T.R. Smith, South Pacific Commission (Wellington: Price Milburn, 1972), p 46.

[12] In 1997, the SPC was renamed the Pacific Community but retained the familiar SPC acronym.

[13] The TTPI, the former Japanese mandated islands that were ceded by the UN to the US as a security trust in 1947, but could not be added to the SPC until control was transferred to civilian authority in 1951.

[14] Western Samoa renamed itself as Samoa in 1997 over the protests of American Samoa.

[15] For a useful review of the transition from colonial regional cooperation to post independence arrangements see:  Herbert Corkran, Patterns of International Cooperation in the Caribbean, 1942-1969 (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1970)

[16] Nauru did not join PIPA, as its only export commodity was phosphate.

[17] There would have been an internal complication with PIPA as constituted in 1971, however.  Niue and the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony (GEIC) had associated themselves with PIPA’s Constitution although they were not independent or self-governing.

[18] PNG did not achieve full internal self-governing status until 1 December 1972.

[19] Agreement Establishing The South Pacific Bureau For Economic Co-Operation (With Annex) [1973]. The treat can be accessed at:

[20] By 1971, PIPA included Niue and the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony as members and by the February 1972 decisions of the Forum they were ineligible for membership in the Forum at that time.  Moreover Nauru had never been a member of PIPA.

[21] Article XI (4) of the SPEC Agreement:  “Other governments may, with the approval of the Forum, accede to this Agreement.”


[23] South Pacific Bureau for Economic Cooperation, ‘More Effective Aid: A Report to the South Pacific Forum’, 1976, unpublished consultants’ report.

[24] I have dealt with some of the inconsistencies and complexities of the SRO issue in my "Regionalism and Nationalism", in K.R. Howe, Robert C. Kiste and Brij V. Lal (eds.), Tides of History: The Pacific Islands in the Twentieth Century, Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1994.

[25] The MOU served the purpose of doubts removal legislation in municipal law so that it confirmed that the original intention of CCOP/SOPAC's regional members to constitute it as an IGO.  Thus, CCOP/SOPAC was deemed technically not to be a "new" regional organisation and so not contrary to the SRO aspirations of the Forum.  The 1984 MOU and CCOP/SOPAC's existing Terms of Reference served as the body's foundation documents until a full treaty was drafted in 1989.

[26] The same approach was taken in 1989 when the 1984 MOU was replaced by a full treaty.  See: Agreement Establishing the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission [1990] at  The 1989 review process renamed CCOP/SOPAC the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC).

[27]  However, the Convention’s scope also included Australia and New Zealand but none of the three metropolitan powers excluded from the Forum thus blending elements of the SPC and the Forum.  These decisions may well have been essential precursors to the compromises that led to SPOCC in 1988.

[28] SPREP therefore includes all the 22 Pacific Islands Countries (PICs) that are members of the SPC.  However, only four of the five metropolitan states of the SPC – Australia, France, New Zealand and the United States – joined the new IGO.  The United Kingdom, which then was restructuring its Pacific interests, decided to remain outside SPREP.

[29] These are currently listed as: the Forum Secretariat (formerly SPEC), the Pacific Community (formerly the SPC), the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), the South Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP), the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC), the Pacific Island Development Program (PIDP), the South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO), the University of the South Pacific (USP), the Fiji School of Medicine (FSchM), the South Pacific Board for Educational Assessment (SPBEA) and Pacific Power Association.  However, this list may no longer be accurate due to some national and regional institutional changes.

[30] The South Pacific Forum changed its name in October 2000 to the Pacific Islands Forum.

[31] Nic Maclellan, “New Caledonia Pursues Full Forum Membership”, Island Business, Vol. 36 (May 2010), pp 25-6.

[32] The 2005 Forum created the new category but its communiqué does not offer much on the distinctions between the new categories of Observer and Associate Member.  See: Thirty-Sixth Pacific Islands Forum Communiqué at:

[33] Security Treaty between Australia, New Zealand and the United States of America [1951];

[34] For an assessment of the linkage between ANZUS and the South Pacific region, see: R.A. Herr, "The Changing Geo-Politics of ANZUS: The Place of the South Pacific", World Review, March 1984, pp. 21-42.

[35] Ibid.

[36] The details and consequences of the 1976 ANZUS ministerial meeting are addressed in my "Regionalism, Strategic Denial and South Pacific Security", Journal of Pacific History, XXI (1986), pp. 170-182.

[37] The role of the two ANZAC states has always been ambiguous since they are outside the SPC’s operational ambit yet they as much bound by Forum decisions as the FICs.  Thus, have both the characteristics of owners (without being resident in the region) and stakeholders (as outsiders/donors).

[38] Michael Hamel-Green, The South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty: a critical assessment, (Canberra: Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University, 1990).

[39] The end of the Cold War changed strategic attitudes, however, and so, a decade later, France, the United Kingdom and the United States signed the three protocols that applied to them in a joint ceremony in March 1996.

[40] For the history of this dispute see: Stuart McMillan, Neither Confirm Nor Deny (Wellington, Allen & Unwin, 1987).

[41] These are the 1992 Honiara Declaration on Law Enforcement Cooperation, the 1997 Aitutaki Declaration on regional security, the 2000 Biketawa Declaration.

[42] See for example: Elsina Wainwright and Australian Strategic Policy Institute.  Our failing neighbour: Australia and the future of Solomon Islands, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Barton, A.C.T., 2003

[43] The Pacific Plan and details concerning it can be accessed at:

[44] Laisa Taga, “Forum’s Fiji ‘Plan’ Causing New Split”, Island Business, June 2009, p. 5


[46] See for example: Rowan Callick, “Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama orders Australian professor out”, The Australian, 5 November 2009.  Accessed at:

[47] The “Agreed Principles of Co-operation among Independent Melanesian Countries signed in 1988 by Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu as founding states members and the Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste, (FLNKS) of New Caledonia as an observer self-identified their association as “sub-regional”.

[48] Fiji became an observer in the MSG from 1993.

[49] The Prime Minister of Samoa, Tuila’epa Sailele Malielegaoi, repeated these concerns in 2006 before the coup in Fiji later that year.  See: “MSG: trading on political capital and Melanesian solidarity”, Pacific Institute of Public Policy, Briefing Paper 02, July 2008, p.3.

[50] See for example: “PNG urges Australia, NZ to support Fiji”,

[51] “Fiji PM says Pacific grouping to strengthen” Radio Australia, 30 October 2009,

週五, 25 三月 2011 16:48

The Other “Ties That Bind”: Christianity in East Asia and the Pacific

In this and similar conferences, we are in the process of being reintroduced to one another–like a gathering of a long-lost family. Not just Taiwanese, especially the aboriginal population, and the Island peoples–who are joined by ancient linguistic and cultural ties; but Westerners, Europeans and Americans as well.

週一, 02 九月 2013 11:18

Taiwan as a Source of Inspiration

At the end of her six weeks spent in Taiwan animating a workshop about Samoan dance, choregrapher Tupe Lualua reflected back on her trip and her rich experience making connections between Austronesian cultures.

週三, 28 八月 2013 16:25

From Orchid Island, With Love

Impressions of another island

About 40 miles southeast of Taiwan lies an island called Lanyu, which means "Orchid Island" in English. The local people on the island used to call this island Bon Showao Dawa which means island people. However, after winning an orchid race a long time ago the island became known as Lanyu. It is actually rare to see an orchid on the island, I saw more goats than orchids during my stay there.

Currently the island is comprised of six villages and one tribe called the Yami (or the Tao). Despite the island's small population the local people on Lanyu have been working hard to keep the tradition of canoe building alive. Each man is expected to build a canoe by the time he reaches the age of 18, however, it is becoming more common for young men on the island to wait until they reach their twenties or thirties before they start building their own canoe. Community efforts are critical in the process of canoe building and once the canoe is built the local people on the island will have a ceremony to celebrate.

It is in the deepest interests of the island's elders to preserve the tradition of canoe building and efforts to preserve this tradition focus on the island's elementary school. According to Principal Syamen Womzas at Lanyu Elementary School, they have been trying their best to negotiate with the Department of Education to revive the tradition of canoe building as well as sailing by including these activities as a form of extra curricular activity at school.

As part of the school's extra curricular activity, it often takes its students to watch the elders build canoes so that they can learn from participating in the canoe building process.

The manner in which they teach canoe building on Lanyu is similar to that in Lau, because no plan or drawing is involved in the canoe building process. The son just learns from his father or grandfather, by watching and practicing.

The locals use Breadfruit trees to build their canoes, they use the gum from the trees as glue to join the planks together. It doesn't last long but its lighter for when they want to row against the wind instead of sailing. They only use the sails if they are going with the wind or with the wind at their backs.

The Taiwanese take pride in their culture and tradition and have strived hard to revive ancient songs and dances with a lot of passion. Their interest in how our ancestors sailed the ocean is huge. After being invited to the Formosa Song and Dance Troupe, formed by indigenous people from the 14 tribes in Taiwan in 1991, they were given an insight into traditional Fijian navigation and sailing. The Taiwanese believe that the fruit of the barringtonia asiatica — vutu in Fijian and which grow in the coastal area of southern and northern Taiwan and Orchid Island — is dispersed by the ocean connecting the islands and shows how humans migrated (floated) from Taiwan into the many lands of the Pacific spreading their seeds of hope, possibility, culture, language and knowledge.

The Drua Project — a proposal to build a drua in Fiji that will sail to the Pacific Arts festival in Guam in 2016 — is of particular interest to the Hualien Tribal College (Taiwan Indigenous), which may send one of its own to Fiji in August to learn and take back our traditional boat-building skills. There's only one club in Taiwan which teaches about the sea and I was glad to be back in the water with some of its members. I was taken aback by their surprise when I returned from paddling three miles out. One of the old men thought I was going to paddle back to Fiji.

The Taiwanese pride themselves in traditional revival and the Formosa troupe, which travels the world performing in theatre and stages, is working with other stakeholders to try trace their past to revive all indigenous cultures, songs and dances in all their tribes.

Earlier on, I did my first presentation at the National Taiwan University, which was organised by Taiwan Society of Pacific Studies and co-hosted with the Taiwan Indigenous Peoples Resource Center, with the support of the Council of Indigenous People. This workshop was well attended with more than 100 participants of all ages and walks of life. They were given an insight into the Te Mana O Te Moana voyage and the Uto Ni Yalo bole, a traditional challenge that was written by Manoa Rasigatale. It was only right that I made this traditional call as this here is a new journey for me and the Uto ni Yalo Trust (formerly the Fiji Islands Voyaging Society) with our Taiwanese friends and kin. The bole is what they have requested I must teach them before I leave but first they must understand the meaning of the chant. I began with short clips of the soon-to-be released documentary, Our Blue Canoe. Then I shared with them the history of the Uto ni Yalo Trust and its role in the epic voyage across over 50,000 kilometres of the Pacific Ocean. I shared with them some activities we've carried out such as turtle tagging around Ringgold Islands and whale watching near Ovalau, the community visits and sails with children and how we are trying to reach out to revive our traditional sailing knowledge.

After Hualien, I travelled to Taitung, one and half hours by train towards the southern side of the island, and was welcomed by the students and principal of the National Guan Shan Vocational Senior High School, which has a special class for students learning about their culture, carving, weaving and traditional designs. Fiji must do the same if we are to safeguard our traditional knowledge. We must act fast and also start a school to revive the ancient arts of navigation and boat-building for those with the knowledge back home are in old age and time is running out on us. We need to teach primary schoolchildren. I hope the Ministry of Education can allow such a school or a special class for each school to learn chants, songs and meke.

There is much to learn from the Taiwanese and there are a lot of similarities between us. While I was on the island, I discovered there were some words that I found were similar to our Fijian language, such as "ulu" for head, "daliga" for ear, "mata" for eye, "gusu" for mouth, "lima" for five, "vitu" for seven, "walu" for eight, "tina" for mother, and "tama" for father. My only regret is that I didn't fully understand their language so I was unable to dig for more information.

Seeing the response from the people of Taiwan made me eager to see the UTO NI YALO sailing up to Taiwan as soon as possible in order to reinforce the message that I had shared with them on behalf of Fiji, and hopefully reconnect the people of both our islands.

moce mada vakalailai

Photo by Tupe Lualua

Watch here a video overview of the workshop in Orchid Island


週三, 28 八月 2013 15:34

A Traditional Sailing Experience in Taiwan

At National Taitung University, during one of the workshops engaging Fijian navigator Setareki Ledua and Samoan dancer Tupe Lualua, aboriginal Tao writer Syaman Rapongan (夏曼●藍波安) talks about his own experience sailing in the Pacific in 2005 on a 8 persons canoe.  

週二, 27 八月 2013 16:16

Embrace the Pacific

During the months of June and July 2013, the Taiwan Society for Pacific Studies held a series of forums on Fijian navigation culture and Samoan Dance, lead respectively by the young Fijian navigator Setareki Ledua and the Samoan dancer Tupe Lualua. Together, they participated in various educational and cultural exchanges, mostly with students on the East Coast of Taiwan. Thus they visited schools and villages in Hualien County, Taoyuan County, Taidong County and Orchid Island. For example, they met with the Formosa Aboriginal Song & Dance Troupe (原舞者舞團and Tao writer Syaman Rapongan.

This month's Focus gives you an overview of their trip in Taiwan as well as an insight of the way the two young pacific islanders carry and reinvent their heritage.

seta dulan knot

週二, 27 八月 2013 15:13

Sailing on the Blue Canoe

Setareki Ledua, whom we generally just called "Seta", is 22 years old and he is from Fiji. Between 2010 and 2013, he spent two years navigating on "Uto Ni Yalo" ("Heart of Spirit" in Fijian), one of the canoes from the Pacific Voyager fleet that roam throughout the Pacific ocean using traditional navigation methods. During June and July 2013, he was invited to Taiwan by the Taiwan Society for Pacific Studies for a 6-weeks workshop in order to share his knowlegde and his experience as the youngest Chief Officer ever on the Pacific Voyager fleet.

In this first interview, he had just arrived to Taipei and he shyly introduces himself and traditional canoe sailing:

週五, 26 四月 2013 12:46

A Vibrant Culture with an Ugly Facade: Honiara and the Pacific Art Festival

Let me admit it: Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, situated on the Guadalcanal Island, does not strike the visitor with awe. Cavernous Chinese shops filled with all kinds of goods, administrative buildings and houses in concrete scattered around the roads that run parallel to the coastline, commercials for "Solomon Telekom" and the "SolBrew" beer, the two brands that seem to monopolize the advertising expenditures of the country... nothing that really draws the attention. On the hills, a monument adorned with granite plaques recalls the naval battles that ravaged the island during WWII. Modest but numerous Adventist, Catholic and Protestant churches are landmarks all along the way. In the haven and on the beaches, carcasses of warships still lay down, giant ghostly presences. But there is also a kind of softness in the atmosphere, a mixture of gentleness and restraint in people's conduct that, from the start, intrigues and seduces the newcomer.

In Honiara, a wide field has been surrounded by high fences in preparation for the festival, and is divided into two villages – traditional houses hosting on the one side the different provinces and cultural groups from SI, on the other the delegations from abroad, among them the Taiwanese one. A vast public, mainly local, attends the dance and music performances, looks at the handicrafts for show or for sale, marvels at the similarities and differences of languages and customs witnessed from one island to another.

I am usually a bit dreary of festivals and other public events, but this time I find myself thoroughly enjoying the show. I especially like to stay in the SI village, with the huts under the shadow of the giant trees, and to watch the performances offered by tribal groups from the mountains and the coast. The dancers from Isabel Island are my favorites.festivalIsabel05-copyONLINE

Contacts are easy and relaxed. Dancing, panpipes and drums, tattoos, weapons, canoes... I enjoy myself like a child, far away from the megacity of Shanghai where I usually live. Near the main venue of the festival, the little village of Doma, right on the seashore, offers performances from the various tribes living in Guadalcanal Island. Children play on the sand, the music of the drums and that of the waves join into one. The Pacific starts to operate its magic.

Not far away, within walking distance of the fishing village of Lilisiana, the festival gathers local people between the seashore and a lake. The setting is modest, but groups are coming from far away villages, some of them from the mountain bush, and other from the coast. Mathilde, a woman form the Lau tribe, tells me that she takes care alone of a plot of land, where she cultivates cabbage. Her English is quite good: she has worked for five years for a Catholic NGO, she tells me, and in 1997 she even went to the World Youth Day in Paris. She directs the dancers' troop of her village, and performs with much gusto and sense of humor.

Photos by B.V.

The following video is an interview and a performance by Arasuka'aniwara, a panpipe collective from the Solomon Islands:

This video is currently not available for readers in Mainland China.


週五, 11 一月 2013 16:37

Sakinu Ahronglong: Poetry and Song

Ahronglong Sakinu is a full-time police man, working in forest conservation, and an amateur writer, recording the wisdom passed down for generations in his tribe. Here he presents us with a poem and a song which he performed at the 2012 International Austronesian Conference - Weaving Waves's Writings:

週三, 09 一月 2013 13:26

Teaching a Common Pacific History: Morgan Tuimaleali'ifano

Professor Morgan Tuimaleali'ifano discusses how the teaching of history in Fiji has been decolonized, and how Taiwan and other Pacific nations can work together to create an alternative version of history which incorporates indigenous memory and stands apart from the colonial view of history.

週二, 08 一月 2013 17:36

Taiwan's Pacific: Educational Links and Sustainable Fisheries

Professor Paul D'Arcy talks about the role for Taiwan in the Pacific - particularly the leading role it has taken in listening to the Pacific in the last few years, (with respect to the ban on the practice of finning sharks amongst other initiatives). He goes  on to outline areas in which Taiwan could continue to show leadership in the region, especially in regard to education and sustainable fishing:

週二, 08 一月 2013 17:09

Artificial Island Structures: The Future of the Pacific?

Fabrizio Bozzato discusses the consequences of rising sea level for Pacific island nations and suggests a possible solution for them: artificial islands. 

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