Take a look back at some of last year’s most important pieces in Policy Forum’s Pacific: In Focus section, as chosen by section editor Gil Rickey.
From climate change and natural disasters, to political instability and regional confrontation, 2021 was full of significant events in the Pacific Island region. If you want to understand the stories that shaped the ‘blue continent’, check out five of our favourites from the second year of our Pacific: In Focus section.
Indigenous diplomacy, the practices that have formed the underpinnings of cross-cultural relations in the Pacific for thousands of years, continue to be essential in modern regional inter and intra-state relations. Despite this, these practices are understudied and underutilised by those seeking to advance development and interconnectedness throughout the region. In this piece, Gordon Leua Nanau analyses how the long-standing popo and supu systems in Guadalcanal in Solomon Islands offer lessons for policymakers.
Australia’s ‘Pacific Step-up’, launched by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in 2018, has formed the backbone of the country’s foreign policy in the region for the last four years. According to the Australian Government, the policy represents a “new chapter” of Pacific relations, which in recent years has been beset by tensions over climate change. In this searing piece Leonard Louma, former Secretary of Papua New Guinea (PNG)’s Department of Foreign Affairs, argues that despite claims of a ‘step-up’, very little has changed about how Australia interacts with the region.
In recent years, gender equality has been pushed to the forefront of Pacific security. The impact of the gender agenda is perhaps most visible at a day-to-day level in the area of policing. However, as Danielle Watson and Leone M Howes point out in this piece, despite strong rhetorical support for gender equality from the region’s policing and political leadership, little has eventuated in the way of concrete action. This is most telling in the fact that to date, no woman has held the position of ‘top cop’ in any Pacific nation. As female political leaders like Samoan Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa come to prominence, it is crucial to maintain awareness of the ways gender equality is developing at all levels in Pacific societies.
COVID-19 has been a major challenge for the Pacific again this year, perhaps nowhere more than in Papua New Guinea (PNG), where vaccination rates are still extremely low and reported case numbers are unreliable. In this piece, Elizabeth Kopel of the PNG National Research Institute explores the factors contributing to the ongoing crisis, including extreme vaccine hesitancy, divisive politics, and a porous border with Indonesia. Kopel emphasises that there are a number of policy areas Port Moresby can address to raise vaccination rates, particularly around making information dissemination more accessible to the country’s large rural population and stronger utilisation of legal measures against instigators of anti-vaccine violence. As the pandemic continues, particularly in developing nations, it’s more important than ever to understand why PNG has struggled and where it goes from here.
One of the biggest stories for the Pacific in 2021 was the breakdown of the region’s foremost intergovernmental organisation, the Pacific Islands Forum. In February, the five Micronesian member states declared their intention to leave the organisation due to a dispute over the election of its secretary general. Despite this setback, in other areas Pacific states continued a long tradition of effective joint diplomacy with the wider world, particularly on the issue of climate change. This was encapsulated most clearly at COP26, where the region presented a united front in advocating for strong global commitments to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In this important piece, Pacific scholar Denghua Zhang and diplomat Walter Diamana analyse the factors that are pulling the Pacific together and apart.
What issues would you like to see covered on Policy Forum‘s Pacific: In Focus section in 2022? Leave us a comment below or share your thoughts via Twitter.