Pacific Island Nations Demonstrate Respect In Face of Adversity

Kiribati intends to rejoin the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) after a formal apology from the new Fijian Prime Minister – who is also the Chair of the Pacific Islands forum – Sitiveni Rabuka. During his recent visit, Rabuka performed a traditional practice of ‘boka,’ a ceremony that seeks forgiveness and reaffirms solidarity. The ceremony touched the president of Kiribati, Taneti Maamau, saying, “Kiribati has truly felt the brotherly love that translates into the Pacific Way of acceptable, reconciliation, peace and unity,” in an article from RNZ Pacific.

Kiribati pulled out of the PIF last July, just before the group was set to meet for the first time in three years. The move came as a surprise to the other Pacific Nations, as they rely on regionalism and a sense of unity for leverage in the current geopolitical world. Maamau claimed that the PIF did not satisfactorily address concerns of “equity, equality and inclusiveness in a number of key decisions including the appointment of the current Secretary General.” Since Kiribati left the PIF, Fiji experienced their first change of government in 16 years this past December with the election of Sitiveni Rabuka. With a new leader the country is distancing itself from China, and strengthening ties with other Pacific Islands, says an article from Taipei Times.

Australia, New Zealand, the United States and China all have an interest in the negotiations of the Pacific Island Nations. Australia, New Zealand, and the United States all seek to increase their engagement with the Pacific Nations, in part to counter China’s increased engagement. China has a very strong interest in the Pacific Nations as their geographical locations allow for military outposts. In June, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi went to the Pacific and attempted to negotiate a regional security and cooperation agreement with Pacific nations. The Pacific nation’s lack of enthusiastic responses prompted China to withdraw their plan and release statements reaffirming their dedication to the Pacific Island nations. China could also be interested in the area for their extended trade routes and fisheries. Considering a security pact between China and the Solomon Islands in April, the United States, Australia and New Zealand remain fearful that China will establish military bases on the islands, although these ideas have been denied. China also looks to further isolate Taiwan diplomatically in an attempt to weaken Taiwan’s position in the international sphere.

The PIF makes decisions based on consensus, which means that everyone must support the decisions made. Australia and New Zealand are both members of PIF, and they, along with the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Palau, Tuvalu and Nauru have diplomatic ties to Taiwan. Deals between the Pacific Nations and China are generally viewed by Pacific Island leaders with suspicion and scrutiny. There is more hanging on these deals than just improved ties – they also represent a tension between the west and China. The Pacific Nations share democratic values and would most likely prefer stronger partnerships with democratic nations, rather than autocratic China. Yet China is offering economic support that the nations need, creating a dependency. Despite the distrust of China’s deals, the Pacific Island nations have voiced that China has not disrespected them through all conversations, in contrast to past dialogue with western powers.

While the Pacific Island countries view the increased attention as an opportunity to gain aid and improve their economies, they continue to voice their real concern: climate change. Previous negotiations and conversations around climate policies with the United States, New Zealand, Australia and China have not solicited a significant response. Conversations on climate change measures between Pacific Island nations and Australia have historically resulted in Australia reminding the Pacific Island nations how much aid they give them rather than action. Rising sea levels continue to threaten the very existence of the Pacific Island countries, pushing them to form alliances amongst themselves, while also seeking out alliances with bigger world powers.

Even if Pacific Island nations do not want to become the center of another geopolitical conflict like in World War II, they are still willing to make the most of the competition between China and the west. By joining together, the Pacific Island nations make themselves stronger in the face of apathetic world powers and climate change. Ideally, competition would not be the motivator for the United States, Australia and China to listen to the PIF, and act. The countries would realize that the survival of the Pacific Island nations in face of climate change is akin to charismatic megafauna – only the most visible disaster attached to the changing climate. World leaders need to follow Fiji with their own versions of Rabuka’s performance of ‘boka’ and reaffirm their commitment to mitigating climate change. Perhaps a meeting of country leaders where they all collaborate on a central vision for the world, and a timeline. Once the vision is agreed upon and created, each country works on how they can achieve that vision. If countries do not have the resources to accomplish the vision, then they still create a plan, and bring their needs to countries who have more resources. Those countries with more resources would be willing to sell resources on a need basis, rather than a highest bidder basis. Along with a common vision, the countries would create a set of agreements prohibiting aggressions towards each other, of all varieties. Ultimately, any inaction brings the consequence of continued climate change related disasters, costing infinite amounts of money and lives. With every country creating a plan specific to their own citizens and circumstances, they will be more likely to complete needed changes. Once countries have followed through on their plans, they will refine them and return again to executing them. Throughout this time, if any country tries to sabotage or attack another, every other country will immediately cut them off from any type of trade, no exceptions. Cutting off another country will be made possible by other countries supplying resources to those in need when they cut off their normal supply source. When countries focus on the common threat of climate change, they will create stronger bonds, just like in the Pacific Island nations. All it takes is an apology and reminder of the common goal that humanity shares – life.


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