Publication in Economics, Politics and Public Policy in East Asia and the Pacific

Pacific Islands

Tough choices dealing with COVID-19 in the Pacific

A Fijian family board their canoe as a sunset lights up the sky behind an island's mountain range in Suva 28 April, 2004 (Photo: Reuters/Gray).

Author: Tess Newton Cain, Griffith Asia Institute

In the Pacific islands region, the COVID-19 story is one of contrasts. There have been few confirmed cases of infection. Many Pacific island countries are COVID-19-free thanks to the swift and decisive actions of governments in closing borders early and keeping them firmly shut. But the danger is not over yet so there is no room for complacency. Significant risk factors are still present in Pacific island countries, including a prevalence of chronic disease and weak healthcare systems despite recent international efforts to provide support by way of funding and equipment.

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China meets its limits in Micronesia

China’s Premier Li Keqiang shakes hands with Micronesia's President David Panuelo at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, 13 December 2019 (Photo: Noel Celis/Pool via Reuters).

Authors: Denghua Zhang, ANU and Gonzaga Puas, Micronesian Institute for Research and Development

In December 2019, the President of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) David Panuelo paid his first state visit to China. The visit celebrated the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

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COVID-19 and geopolitics in the Pacific

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang attend a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, 9 October 2019 (Photo:Reuters/Thomas Peter).

Authors: Anna Powles, Massey University and Jose Sousa-Santos, Victoria University

The COVID-19 pandemic in the Pacific has several frontlines. In addition to health security, a geopolitical front has opened up: China and the contest for influence in the Pacific region. The Pacific is a contested arena between China and US allies such as Australia. It was inevitable that pandemic diplomacy would emerge as either a fault line or a site of cooperation in the fight against COVID-19. Read more…

COVID-19 exposes cracks in Pacific regionalism

Maxi Mart employee Nena Nena is interviewed by Pacific Daily News reporter Jojo Santo Tomas about the use of nearby hotels, Wyndham Garden Guam, and Days Inn, as 14-day quarantine zones for passengers coming from COVID-19 affected areas, on Ypao Road, 20 March, 2020 (Photo: Reuters).

Authors: Anna Powles and Jose Sousa-Santos, Massey University

At the time of writing, there are 63 reported cases of COVID-19 in the Pacific. This includes one in Papua New Guinea, three in Fiji, seven in New Caledonia, 23 in French Polynesia, 29 in Guam and suspected cases in Samoa. The number is relatively low but there is a sense that tragedy is unfolding in slow motion across a region where health sectors are already under-funded and poorly equipped. Read more…

Currents of change in the Pacific dwarfed by rising tides

Officials count ballots in Buka, Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, 11 December 2019 (Photo: Reuters/BRC/Jeremy Miller).

Author: Kerryn Baker, ANU

The past year has been a time of considerable change for the Pacific Islands, with new leadership, new partnerships and even the potential for new nations all coming into being. The one constant is the enduring threat of climate change, with 2019 ultimately a disappointing year for Pacific climate activists. Read more…

Changes in Fiji’s politics

Fiji's Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama speaks during the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit at UN headquarters in New York City, New York, US, 23 September 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Carlo Allegri).

Author: Scott MacWilliam, ANU

In Fiji, 2019 was similar to the year that preceded it. But things might be a little different in 2020.

In the run up to the second election since the so-called return to democracy in November 2018, the FijiFirst government led by Prime Minister Voreqe ‘Frank’ Bainimarama campaigned on its past successes. Emphasising supposedly unprecedented economic growth as well as increased support for households, the governing party stressed its role in providing stability through continuity. Read more…

Australia’s middle power role in combating illegal fishing

A boat of Indonesia's navy pass Vietnamese fishing boats before they are sunk by Indonesia's authorities, after they were seized due to illegal fishing in Indonesia's waters, at Datuk island in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, 4 May , 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Wuysang).

Author: Xuan Dung Phan, Tokyo International University

Combating illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing — an important issue for littoral Southeast Asian states — is low-hanging fruit for Australian middle power diplomacy. Increasing partnerships with regional countries to address IUU fishing will complement Australia’s maritime security initiatives that have traditionally focused on its alliance with the United States, while also elevating the country’s regional standing.

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Does it matter if Taiwan loses formal recognition?

Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele attend a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, 9 October 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Thomas Peter).

Author: Timothy Rich, Western Kentucky University

In September 2019 both Solomon Islands and Kiribati ended diplomatic relations with Taiwan (formally the Republic of China), leaving the country with formal recognition from only 15 countries. This follows the departure since 2016 of five other diplomatic partners: Sao Tome and Principe, Panama, Burkina Faso, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador. But the importance of this may be overstated. Read more…

Taiwan’s Pacific losses

Author: Michael Mazza, AEI

In late September 2019, Solomon Islands and Kiribati severed their diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan). The moves are, at once, largely insignificant and of great importance to Taiwan’s national security interests. Read more…

The Pacific should persist with Australia on climate change

Author: George Carter, ANU

It has been weeks since Tuvalu hosted the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Meeting (PIF), but the media attention and public outcry it sparked is yet to simmer. More than 25 agenda items from maritime boundaries, resilience and security to the long-term 2050 regional vision were discussed, but the buzzword this year was ‘climate change’ and it led to the consequential Kainaki II declaration. Read more…

Australia destroys its own reputation in the Pacific

An undated handout photo of Whitehaven Coal's Maules Creek coal mine in New South Wales, Australia (Photo: Whitehaven Coal Ltd/Handout via Reuters).

Author: Kevin Rudd, Asia Society Policy Institute

The dust-up at the Pacific Islands Forum was not simply a zero-sum game between the Pacific and Australia over coal. While this may have been the tip of the spear, it went to a far deeper divide over climate and development assistance that has now dramatically been exposed and will continue to hamper Australia’s ability to ‘Step Up’ regional engagement. Australia has so far only upset its friends, opened the door further to China, and trashed its global reputation. Read more…

Maintaining the US edge in the Freely Associated States

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shakes hands with Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo after they placed wreaths at a memorial to fallen Micronesians who served in the U.S. military, at Pohnpei International Airport in Kolonia, Federated States of Micronesia 5 August 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst).

Authors: Derek Grossman and Michael Chase, RAND

In August 2019 Mike Pompeo became the first US secretary of state to visit the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). He announced the start of negotiations to extend the Compact of Free Association (COFA) — an international agreement that provides the US military with unfettered land, air, and sea access to FSM in part through yearly economic assistance. Just before Pompeo’s arrival, China donated US$2 million to Micronesia’s Trust Fund. This was also a first. Read more…

Australia shows up in Tuvalu and trips over

An abandoned house that is affected by seawater during high-tides stands next to a small lagoon near the village of Tangintebu, South Tarawa, Kiribati, 25 May 2013 (Photo: Reuters/David Gray).

Author: Tess Newton Cain, TNC Pacific Consulting

On 13-16 August 2019 the leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum held their 50th meeting. The theme, as chosen by their host and current chair Tuvaluan Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga, was ‘Securing our Future in the Pacific’. The leaders’ meeting of 2018 provides context for what transpired in 2019 and why it is significant.


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Why Australian aid’s infrastructure fixation won’t be a boon for the Pacific

Local residents sit outside their damaged homes surrounded by debris on a street after Cyclone Pam hit Port Vila, Vanuatu, 15 March 2015. (Photo: Reuters/Kris Paras)

Author: Terence Wood, ANU

The need for infrastructure in poorer parts of the Pacific is obvious. Outside of urban areas, once-paved roads are now muddy tracks. On some islands, planes land on grass runways that are frequently closed by rain. In some places, small boats take hours to move cargo from ships moored off coasts deprived of wharves.

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The ‘Samoan Model’ adapts gender quotas to Pacific politics

A woman sits on a staircase at her house located near the ExxonMobil PNG Limited operated Liquefied Natural Gas plant in the village of Papa Lea Lea located at Caution Bay on the outskirts of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, 19 November 2018 (Photo: Reuters/David Gray).

Author: Kerryn Baker, ANU

The Pacific Women in Power Forum, held in March 2019 in Fiji, brought together women members of parliament (MPs) from the region to discuss women’s participation in public life. While elections in the Cook Islands, Fiji, Guam and Solomon Islands have brought in record numbers of women MPs, the Pacific region as a whole is still at the bottom of global league tables on women’s representation. Read more…