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


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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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…

China constrained as much as controlling in the South Pacific

A view of the Rock Islands of Palau. Picture taken 5 August 2018. (Photo: REUTERS/Farah Master)

Author: Denghua Zhang, ANU

China’s engagement with the states of the South Pacific Ocean has accelerated in recent years. But while policymakers and academics increasingly talk about China’s growing influence, Beijing actually operates in the region under a number of constraints.

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Keeping up with Pacific politics

Pacific island leaders talk to APEC leaders at the APEC Summit, in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, 17 November 2018 (Photo: Reuters/David Gray).

Author: Tess Newton Cain, TNC Pacific Consulting

The changed and changing geostrategic environment of the Pacific islands made its presence known on numerous occasions during the year. After decades of neglect, the region was ‘rediscovered’ by strategists in Australia, the United States and elsewhere. Read more…

Passports a ticket to corruption in the Pacific Islands

A Solomon Islander of Chinese descent holds his passport as officials organise flights to China for people targeted by rioters in Honiara, Solomon Islands, 23 April 2006 (Photo: Reuters/Tim Wimborne).

Author: Anthony van Fossen, Griffith University

Since the early 1980s, Pacific island countries have sold passports to foreigners. Vanuatu is the most prominent supplier today. Passport sales in the first half of 2018 brought the country about US$39.3 million — 9 per cent of GDP. Read more…

Australia needs to reset its Pacific policy

Britain's Prince Charles poses for a photograph with Chiefs and the Australian Minster for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, during a visit to the Chief's nakamal, as he visits the South Pacific island of Vanuatu, 7 April 2018 (Photo: Reuters/Steve Parsons).

Author: Joanne Wallis, ANU

Australia’s response to reports that China was in talks to build a military base in Vanuatu (reports that were denied by Vanuatu and China) typifies its approach to the region. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull expressed his ‘great concern’, there was a flurry of media commentary, and then the region slipped from the headlines shortly after. This reflects the pattern of Australia’s ‘securitised’ approach to the South Pacific — its attention generally sharpens only when the region is perceived as a source of threat. Read more…

How fare the democracies of Melanesia?

President of Federated States of Micronesia, Peter Christian departs after speaking at the opening of The Ocean Conference at the United Nations in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, US, 5 June 2017 (Photo: Reuters/Allegri).

Author: Tess Newton Cain, TNC Pacific Consulting

This year has been another one of significant political events in Melanesia.

The biggest political story of the year was the general election in PNG. While it was anticipated that Peter O’Neill would be returned as prime minister, his party’s loss of more than 30 seats was a significant indication that opposition parties were able to make inroads in some electorates. Read more…

Shining light on the Pacific’s dark networks

The Australian Border force displaying their largest haul of illicit drugs in two years on 15 February, 2016 (Photo: Reuters/Jason Reed).

Author: Anthea McCarthy-Jones, University of Canberra

Over the past few decades, the operational arrangements of numerous organised crime groups operating in the Pacific have developed into sophisticated networks with shared objectives. The increasingly adaptive nature of these groups means that their illicit activities are no longer bound by discrete, local or traditional geographical locations. The December 2016 seizure by Australian Police and Australian Border Force officers of almost one tonne of cocaine is a recent example of criminal organisations utilising network structures to move vast quantities of illicit drugs across the Pacific. Read more…

Pacific perspectives in 2016

Peter Thomson, Permanent Representative of Fiji to the United Nations, addresses the UN General Assembly after being elected as General Assembly President for the 71st session at UN headquarters in Manhattan, New York, 13 June 2016 (Photo: Reuters/Mike Segar).

Authors: Matthew Dornan and Tess Newton Cain, ANU

2016 was a big year for Pacific politics. Vanuatu and Nauru held elections — each in the context of significant concerns about governance. Censorship, deportation of the chief justice and arrests of opposition MPs have led to a serious decline in the credibility of democracy in Nauru in recent years. In Vanuatu, the election this year followed 14 members of parliament having been jailed for corruption in 2015. Read more…

The Pacific is divided on West Papua

A West Papuan woman dances with her spear during a protest (Photo: Reuters).

Author: Patrick M. Walsh, Observer Research Foundation

The United Liberation Movement for West Papua could be welcomed into the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) as a full member this December, according to its Chairman, Manasseh Sogavare. This would advance its position from observer status, granted in 2014. That decision would mark the most significant recognition of West Papua as a political identity since the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority administration in the 1960s.
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Vanuatu embraces landmark reforms

Author: Siobhan McDonnell, ANU

‘Land is life’ is a common catchphrase throughout the Pacific. Given the vital importance of land to the subsistence livelihoods of Pacific populations, undertaking land reform requires a long, consultative process, careful piloting programs and thoughtful evaluation. Recent land reforms in Vanuatu may provide key lessons for other countries in the region. Read more…

‘Check-book diplomacy’ in the Pacific resurrected?

Author: Alfred Oehlers, APCSS

Seasoned observers of the Pacific may be experiencing a sense of déjà vu.

Not long after the ‘truce’ between China and Taiwan, suspending their competitive bidding for diplomatic recognition among Pacific island states, the game has seemingly returned. Read more…

Vanuatu’s recent economic success: lessons for the Pacific

Author: Stephen Howes

The Pacific Islands Forum meets in Cairns this week. If the leaders of the Pacific’s island economies want to know what needs to be done to lift the traditionally low levels of economic growth seen in the region, they would do well to ponder the recent growth record of one the Forum’s own members, Vanuatu.

Prior to 2004, Vanuatu, like many other Pacific island countries, had a long-term rate of economic growth little different from its population growth, about 2.5%. But economic growth in Vanuatu took off in 2004, and growth for the 2004-2008 period has averaged 6.6%.

Due to the global recession, short-term growth prospects are uncertain. But so far this year, tourism growth has accelerated, not declined.

Vanuatu’s growth acceleration is important for the Pacific. It dispels the myth that the Pacific island economies cannot grow, and it confirms the range of factors which are important for growth in the Pacific – a dynamic private sector, active land markets, deregulation, and macroeconomic and social stability.

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