Independence referendum held in New Caledonia

The third referendum on independence envisaged by the Noumea Accords was held in New Caledonia on 12 December.

Following a call for non-participation by the leaders of the pro-independence parties, the turnout was around 44 per cent, having been almost 85 per cent in the previous vote held in 2018.

Unsurprisingly, the result was overwhelming in favour of remaining with France. The “No” vote secured 96.49 per cent of the ballots with the remaining 3.51 per cent going to the “Yes” side.

The results were swiftly welcomed by President Emmanuel Macron of France and leading loyalists in New Caledonia. However, the pro-independence leadership has rejected the referendum as illegitimate. They are maintaining their stance that they will not engage with any other parties in relation to the political future for New Caledonia until after French Presidential elections next year.

A preliminary statement from the Pacific Islands Forum was cautious in its approval of Sunday’s vote

Undersea cable project announced

The governments of Australia, Japan and the USA will jointly fund a new undersea telecommunications cable project in the region.

The cable will provide the basic infrastructure to deliver faster internet to the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, and Nauru. The number of people expected to benefit is around 100,000.

Whilst provision of this infrastructure is a prerequisite for greater connectivity, other key factors such as domestic market conditions are likely more significant in terms of whether consumers can access more affordable internet services.

It appears that geopolitical concerns have contributed to this decision by three of the four QUAD members. This announcement comes further to the collapse of the East Micronesia cable project, which had been expected to service the same countries with financial support from the World Bank.

The cost of the cable project has not been made public at this stage.

Ongoing tensions in Solomon Islands

Whilst the streets are quiet in Honiara, there are plenty of indications that underlying tensions remain.

In Malaita, Premier Daniel Suidani has declared that there will be a survey of the province’s population to determine the appetite for a referendum on independence. He has said that he wants it to be overseen by the United Nations.

Meanwhile, the leader of the Opposition, Mathew Wale, has called for a full investigation into what role, if any, Prime Minister Sogavare played in the alleged kidnapping of two prominent activists during the ‘Tensions’. This comes further to statements made by Sogavare in Parliament where he claimed to have saved the men’s lives.

On social media there have been reports that John Kwaita was taken from his home by armed police and has been detained pending questioning. Mr Kwaita is a member of the Parliamentary Opposition and President of the United Party

PNG/Bougainville talks progressing

The leaders of Bougainville and Papua New Guinea met recently for the third set of talks to progress a new political settlement for the autonomous province. This comes after an overwhelming vote in favour of independence in a referendum held at the end of 2019.

In his statement at the talks President Ishmael Toarama of Bougainville made it clear that he wants to see the momentum maintained in moving towards full statehood for his people. He referred to the use of international mediation or arbitration of unresolved political issues if necessary.

A joint statement released by Toarama and Prime Minister Marape reaffirmed the commitment on both sides to following the Wabag roadmap which Toarama sees as achieving independence for Bougainville by 2027.

However, with general elections on the horizon in 2022 for the whole of PNG, it seems likely that the process may be stalled as political energy is focused elsewhere.

This is the final “Weekly Pacific Bulletin” for 2021. Thank you to all readers for your support this year.


Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute and project lead of the Pacific Hub.