ASIA-PACIFIC REGIONALISM OVERTAKING OCEANIA REGIONALISM. Ron Crocombe Box 309, Rarotonga, COOK ISLANDS

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1 ASIA-PACIFIC REGIONALISM OVERTAKING OCEANIA REGIONALISM Ron Crocombe Box 309, Rarotonga, COOK ISLANDS The concept of regional cooperation is new in the Pacific. In ancient times the units of political organization were much smaller. Even among what are nation-states today, contact was not sufficiently regular or close for regional cooperation to evolve. There was intermittent contact between some neighbors especially Tonga with Samoa and Fiji but not frequent or comprehensive enough to facilitate regional cooperation. Subsistence living and technology limited to stone, bone, wood and fibre did not allow large-scale integrated systems. The colonial era in the Pacific, and the introduction of metal technology and literacy, began in 1565 with Spain taking Guam and other Mariana Islands, followed much later by the Netherlands, France, Britain, USA, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Chile. The colonial powers competed with one another. There was ample potential for regional cooperation, but it was avoided as a matter of policy the colonial powers emphasized competition. Despite the fact that most Pacific Islands were colonies of either Britain and its colonies of Australia and New Zealand, even they maintained a cautious distance from one another in colonial affairs. In most cases even trade and investment was mainly between the colony and its colonial power. (1) Four changes made the colonial powers rethink their position and become the main advocates, initiators and financiers, of Oceania regionalism. The term Oceania is used in the sense used in the United Nations, to include all 14 Pacific Islands nations plus Australia and New Zealand, for most of the organizations that are primarily for the Islands nations, also include Australia and New Zealand in one capacity or another. The first cause of change was World War II, in which Japan occupied all eight territories of Micronesia, invaded the largest three territories of Melanesia (Papua New Guinea, West Papua and Solomon Islands), and came close to conquering the whole Pacific Islands region. US military forces, together with those of Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga (and civilians Papua New Guineans working for the military there) cooperated to defeat Japan and, in the process, the colonial powers came to realise that they needed each other in the face of common external threats. Second was the threat of an alternative political system, that of communism. It was feared that communism would appeal to colonized people who felt deprived, and that a wider range of services must be provided by the colonial powers to reduce the appeal of communism. In fact, communism had little appeal in the Pacific Islands partly because most were fundamentalist Christians and communism was presented to them as the work of the Devil; and partly because there was almost no contact, trade or communication with any communist country, person or policy. But the fear of communism spreading was nevertheless strong in the colonial capitals (in view of examples of it in Asia and Africa). Pacific regional cooperation, master-minded and funded from the colonial capitals, was seen as one of the essential antidotes.

2 Third was the movement for decolonization. That movement did not impact on the Pacific Islands for some time, but it was active in Asia and Africa, and it was expected to reach the Pacific at some stage. If the colonial powers were to maintain influence after independence, one means of doing so was by creating regional organizations that they controlled or heavily influenced with funds and staff. The South Pacific Commission and other regional organizations were seen as alternates to United Nations services, and UN agencies were generally kept at bay until the 1960s or later, having plenty to do in the larger regions of Asia, Africa and Latin America. After the United Nations Declaration on Colonialism in 1961, and the independence of Islands nations beginning with Samoa in 1962, the colonial powers extended the range of inter-governmental and non-governmental regional organizations they supported. Fourth, Britain initiated regionalism in the Caribbean and East Africa. Being the largest colonial power in the world, the British model influenced the Pacific. We humans are not very creative, and usually accept change only in small doses and on the basis of established models from respected sources. Britain was desperately short of money after World War II, and facing anti-colonial pressures in its larger Asian and African colonies (though not in the Pacific). Change is usually due to new pressures in the political environment, both external and internal (but the smaller the territory the more important are the external forces). However, the precise details of how the changes are shaped and managed, is determine by key individuals. Australia, much the biggest country in Oceania, led the promotion of regionalism in the Pacific under the brilliant Dr Clive Evatt as Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Bill Forsyth as the senior official with full-time responsibility for Pacific regionalism. The paramount institution was to be the South Pacific Commission SPC, now called The Pacific Community), a body comprised exclusively of representatives of the six colonial governments of the Pacific Islands (Australia, Britain, France, Netherlands, New Zealand, and USA) when it was founded in 1946 with Bill Forsyth as the first Secretary-General, and headquarters in Noumea, the capital of the French territory of New Caledonia. Pacific Islanders were involved only once every three years in the Pacific Islands Conference which was advisory only. After the Pacific Islands nations became independent, mainly in the 1970s, they joined the colonial and former colonial powers as full members of SPC, and membership later broadened to include dependent territories as well. But the colonial and former colonial powers continued to be members and to provide about 96% of SPC s funds. They still do. Air services, telecommunications and the growing world fashion of setting up regional organizations, all helped their growth in the Pacific Islands. But regional organizations cost money for organization, meetings, and activities, and Pacific Islands peoples and governments had very little money. In practice, most Pacific Islanders had higher priorities closer to home, so regional organizations were overwhelmingly initiated and funded from the colonial powers, either directly or through non-government organizations (NGOs) in the colonial capital, or paid through the United Nations or other international organizations. From the end of World War II until the 1980s, over 300 Pacific Islands or Oceania regional organizations formed, although most of them include Australia and New Zealand, and some include other places (e.g. the Pacific Concerns Resources Centre

3 based in Fiji includes representatives of minority cultures in East Timor, the Philippines, the Ainu of Japan, and Hawai i). BRINGING THE ISLANDS INTO ASIA-PACIFIC REGIONALISM After the 1980s the rate of formation of new Pacific Islands regional organizations shrank. One might think that was because there was now an organization for every imaginable activity or interest group, but this is not so, for the creation of new organizations in the Asia-Pacific keeps growing today as fast as ever, and they already have more than twice as many as there are Pacific Islands or Oceania regional organizations. In the 1950s and 1960s few Asia-Pacific organizations included the Pacific Islands in their membership, but since the 1970s most have encouraged Pacific Islands participation, and they keep growing in number and activity. I have data on about 750 Asia-Pacific regional organizations and I expect the total is more like 1,000. Some are inter-governmental, some involve governments with NGOs and others. The many professional organizations involve mainly individuals and research institutes. There are also many regional sporting, cultural, human rights, women s, media and other Asia- Pacific organizations, but nearly all of them receive most or at least some of their funds from the wealthier governments of the region particularly Japan, China, Singapore and Australia. One of the most recently formed is the Asia-Pacific Malaria Elimination Network, which began in February 2009 with 10 Asia-Pacific countries, and the Australian government contributing A$210 million to the network, and more funds coming from Japan, South Korea and other Asian sources, as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organization and others. The Pacific Islands nations will be major beneficiaries but do not have the resources to be major contributors. Tackling health issues on an Asia-Pacific basis is now common, with at least 135 different health-related Asia-Pacific organizations, each dealing with a different aspect of health or medicine, already in operation. There is an organization for almost every medical sub-specialty for example five separate organizations deal with different specializations in eye care. This is increasingly the pattern on a growing range of topics. Four main factors drive the rapid growth of Asia-Pacific regionalism. First is money. When Pacific Islands regionalism began, Japan s economy had been destroyed in World War II, and so had the economies of most of Asia. India had its agonizing split, with Pakistan hiving off and Bangladesh later hiving off from that. Sri Lanka has had a long civil war. But in recent decades the major Asian economies have grown faster than any other region of the world. Most international indicators show that these economies are likely to continue to grow at a faster rate than those of the rest of the world, and that will be reflected in their growing influence in the Pacific. Pacific Islands membership or participation in the activities of these organizations (of which the most common activities are conferences, workshops, courses and seminars) is generally free, with most costs being met by the larger metropolitan powers. The second driver of growth of Asia-Pacific regional organizations was the formation of the United Nations. The larger of the UN s specialized agencies divided the world into usually five administrative regions, but within each of these they encouraged the establishment of additional regional organizations, whether intergovernmental or non-governmental.

4 As the Pacific Islands were not large enough to be one of the world regions, it was attached to Asia and a new concept arose, that of the Asia-Pacific region, and the Pacific Islands became a sub-region of the Asia-Pacific. From the 1940s to the 1960s the colonial powers in the Pacific worked behind the scenes to keep programs of United Nations agencies to a minimum in their colonies, but that became impossible to maintain for long. The third driver of Asia-Pacific regionalism was constitutional independence. The Pacific Islands regional organizations were created in most cases for the Pacific Islands, independent or not, at least partly to serve the interests of those outside the Islands who initiated them. In most Asia-Pacific organizations, on the contrary, the Pacific Islands were incidental, or ignored for some years. After all, the total population of all Pacific Islands together is only one 400 th or 0.25% of the total population of the Asia-Pacific region. Even if includes all of Oceania (i.e. Australia, New Zealand, and all Pacific Islands nations) that still only accounts for one percent of the population of the Asia-Pacific region. Many Asia-Pacific organizations had been operating for many years before they reached out to the Islands or indeed to the smaller, remoter nations of Asia but they eventually do. Although the population was such a small fraction, with independence, the Islands nations (not including Australia and New Zealand) had 14 votes in the many international organizations. Influence over those votes is of value to any country that can achieve it, and it has been a factor in encouraging Pacific Islands participation in Asia-Pacific regionalism, as it is in Oceania regionalism. The fourth driver of Asia Pacific regionalism was the fear of the European region and the American region becoming closed markets. In the 1970s regionalism was strengthening in Europe, and NAFTA formed a common market of USA, Canada and Mexico, with possibilities of it expanding though the Americas. Those two regions were the main markets of Asia s industrial exports and one of the main sources of their economic growth. There was a fear of Europe and the Americas forming protectionist, increasingly self-sufficient, blocs. Japan and Australia had the most to lose, so they led the drive to promote Asia-Pacific regionalism, so that the Asia-Pacific could become its own negotiating bloc and if necessary, protected economy. At that time, Japan was the main exporter from Asia and Japan was Australia s main trading partner (and then Europe and USA), so if Japan s economy shrunk, Australia would be the biggest loser. The Japanese and Australian governments initiated a number of inter-governmental and non-governmental Asia- Pacific regional organizations. One reflection of this is the fact that over 150 Asia- Pacific regional organizations have their headquarters on Tokyo, while most of the 80 with headquarters in Bangkok are offshoots or affiliates of United Nations specialized agencies. During the 1980s Pacific Basin regionalism (i.e. including USA and other Pacific coast nations of the Americas as well as Pacific coast nations of Asia, and the Pacific Islands) seemed to be booming (some of it on US initiative to forestall Soviet influence), but since then few new Pacific Basin or Pacific Islands regional organizations have been formed, while new Asia-Pacific regional organizations continue to be born at the rate of 10 to 20 per year, with China and Taiwan being the most recent sources of initiative and funding, and increasingly the location of the headquarters of new Asia-Pacific organizations.

5 Asian participation in Oceania regionalism Those Asian nations with interests in the Pacific Islands have in recent years also begun to contribute funds and personnel to Oceania regionalism. The main Asian contributors are Japan, China and Taiwan, with India, Korea, Malaysia and others making smaller contributions. Their contributions are growing steadily and are expected to continue to dilute the relative influence of the former colonial powers in Pacific Islands regionalism. As with the former colonial powers, the top priority for contributions has been the organizations involving independent governments especially the South Pacific Forum (now Pacific Islands Forum) i.e. those that have votes to trade in international forums. The long-term effects of Asian participation in Pacific regionalism The trend over the past 30 years has been for an increasing involvement of Asian nations, particularly those of Northeast Asia, in regional activity in the Pacific Islands both in Oceania and Pacific Islands regionalism and in Asia-Pacific regionalism. Given the growing economic power of East Asian nations relative to that of other nations with interests in the Pacific Islands, there seems to be little doubt that this will continue and with it the decreasing linkage with former colonial powers and the increasing incorporation of the Pacific Islands and Pacific Islanders into the Asia-Pacific region on a growing range of dimensions. This should be met with forward-looking strategies for optimal benefits to all, rather than with the defensive reactions. Note 1. The few exceptions of cooperation involved non-governmental organizations. There was a little regional cooperation by some Christian missions (particularly between branches of the London Missionary Society spread across the region, and between Catholic missions, but not between the two churches) in the Pacific Islands from the 1800s; and in 1920 the Pacific Science Association was formed, linking the academies of science and equivalent national academic bodies in countries of the Pacific coast of the Americas (from USA to Chile), and Pacific coast countries of Asia (including Russia and all other coastal states of Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands). The Pacific Science Association has been very successful throughout, providing contacts and conferences of academics even when their national governments were in conflict.

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