TESS NEWTON CAIN |
Last minute reprieve for Pacific Islands Forum unity
Just as we thought it was all over for the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), the Micronesian leaders have delivered what looks like a reprieve.
The Micronesian Presidents’ Summit has reached a consensus to put their withdrawal from the PIF on a ‘pause’. The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) followed up with an official note to the government of Fiji (as a repository for the PIF) that they were suspending their withdrawal from the group. This came just days before their exit process was due to be complete. We can expect similar notifications to come from the other countries that activated their withdrawals last year: Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, and Palau.
President Panuelo of FSM subsequently told the ABC that this shift resulted from a promise on the part of the PIF negotiators that the current Secretary-General, Henry Puna, would step aside to be replaced by a Micronesian candidate.
Blinken meets with leaders of Fiji and the Pacific region
United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, spent Saturday in Fiji. He and his delegation held bilateral talks with Fijian officials. However, Prime Minister Bainimarama was not present. He remains in Australia where he is recovering from heart surgery.
Blinken also held a virtual meeting with leaders from across the Pacific. However, this meeting was not convened within Pacific Islands Forum processes and the Secretary of State did not meet with anyone from the Forum Secretariat.
During the visit, the Secretary of State announced that the US would establish a new embassy in Honiara. This was welcomed by Solomon Islands’ Foreign Minister, Hon. Jeremiah Manele, who attended the virtual forum in place of Prime Minister Sogavare. However, there was no announcement as to a new ambassador for Fiji since the departure of Joseph Cella over twelve months ago.
Tropical Cyclone Dovi
Tropical Cyclone Dovi has left a trail of damage and destruction across both Vanuatu and New Caledonia. Although it did not get above Category 2 as it progressed, it brought a huge amount of rain to an already sodden region. The cyclone has now moved to New Zealand.
There was extensive localised flooding in both Vanuatu and New Caledonia. The Vanuatu Mobile Force was called on to assist in evacuating people whose homes were completely inundated in the peri-urban areas of Teouma and Prima on the outskirts of Port Vila. Both domestic and international travel was disrupted.
The cyclone has exacerbated the effects of the La Nina system that is currently affecting the region. Huge amounts of rainfall have left crops and gardens waterlogged. There are significant infrastructure concerns as well with bridges and roads being undermined.
Cyclone season for the Pacific ends on April 30th.
Panguna to reopen on Bougainville
The President of Bougainville, Hon Ishmael Toroama, has announced that the copper and gold mine at Panguna will reopen. This comes further to agreement by and among all the landowning groups that are stakeholders in the mine.
This mine has a long and chequered history. Having previously been the largest contributor to Papua New Guinea’s economy, it became the flashpoint for a decade-long civil war. There are ongoing issues around environmental damage that the mine’s previous operators, Rio Tinto, have yet to fully address.
Toarama has argued that the reopening of the mine is a key part of how Bougainville can achieve and sustain its independence. However, others have argued that the mine should remain closed and that more energy should be put into rejuvenating agriculture and exploring tourism opportunities.
The news that the mine would reopen was welcomed on the stock market. Shares in Bougainville Copper Limited rose by over 120% on the ASX listings.
Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute and project lead of the Pacific Hub.