The Oceania Region and regional cooperation organizations

Covering 37% of the earth’s surface, stretching over half of the circumference of the globe, an arena of communication between the world’s two most dynamic regions (the Americas and East Asia), the Oceanian world has traditionally been presented in three big geographic regions:

Melanesia: New Guinea (Papua New Guinea and the Indonesian part of New Guinea), Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and the overseas territory of New Caledonia. New Caledonia is linked to this group, which remains attentive to the institutional evolution of the territory and the implementation of the Nouméa Accords.

Polynesia : Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, and the overseas territories of French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna

Polynesia stretches geographically from New Zealand in the southwest to Easter Island in the east. This culturally very homogeneous group is close to New Zealand from a political standpoint. It comprises counties that are not as rich in natural resources (with the exception of fishing resources) and that have had difficulties establishing political structures after gaining their independence. These countries have often declared themselves in favour of the independence of the territories of the region, with the notable exception of the most recent self-determination vote in Tokelau (March 2006), the inhabitants of which decided to maintain ties with New Zealand. These countries are relatively stable politically and are managed soundly. Several countries have decided to maintain close ties with New Zealand (Niue, Cook Islands and Samoa, etc.).

Micronesia: Palau, Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia, Mariana Islands, Marshall Islands, and Nauru On the fringes of Oceania, the Kiribati Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau and Nauru are coping with their independence, while the Mariana Islands, Guam and the Marshall Islands remain linked to various degrees to the United States, to which they have entrusted their defence, in particular. Their relations with the United States are governed in the framework of a “Compact”, which ensures them substantial income.

Regional organizations:
The Pacific Islands Forum, founded in 1971, which functioned informally until its most recent summit in Port Moresby in October 2005, felt the need to structure itself to meet the challenges of the future.
During these summits, the Forum has adopted statuses, which give each regional State and territory, whether independent or not, a place therein. New Caledonia and Polynesia joined the Pacific Islands Forum as observer members in 1999 and 2004, respectively.

The Forum is carrying out a study of a new regional structure, which would be an acceptable compromise between efficiency and autonomy for the different technical organizations that are created over time to meet development needs.

Founded in 1947, the South Pacific Commission (SPC), which today is called the Pacific Community, is Oceania’s oldest regional organization. Its headquarters are in Nouméa, with a branch in Suva. It welcomes all the countries and territories, irrespective of political status (today there are 19 States and eight trust territories). The United Kingdom left the organization in 2005. An apolitical body of technical cooperation, the SPC aims to finance and manage development programmes for the islands of the Pacific (eight million inhabitants not including Australia and New Zealand, including 5,300,00 in PNG alone), in partnership with the members of the Forum as well as with other organizations and donors.

Other regional organizations have emerged: Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC), South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), Fiji School of Medicine (FSCHM), Pacific Island Development Program (PIDP), South Pacific Bureau for Educational Assessment (SPBEA), South Pacific Tourism Organization (SPTO) and the University of the South Pacific (USP).

1/ Current challenges
Confronted with the tyranny of distance (several thousand kilometres separate States; Kiribati stretches over 3,500 km), the region’s States must pool their resources and establish priorities.

They made sure to create the conditions necessary for their implementation, in particular by:

Setting up a framework of political stability, conveyed by the adoption of the “Pacific Plan” during the Summit in Port Moresby:
The Small Island States suffer from instability; this is even more the case in Melanesia’s sphere of influence. In this respect, the virtual civil war in the Solomon Islands was an eye-opener for the region, which was forced to get a collective grip on the problem. The Biketawa Declaration marks in this instance the calling ascribed to the Forum to intervene in the affairs of one of its members, while respecting its sovereignty, in order to restore order. In this framework, the RAMSI operation (Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands) could be conducted in order to restore peace and ensure a transition to democratic voting, which just took place. This new prerogative of the Forum now seems to be well integrated.

Setting up the framework of an integrated economic zone:
This is the implementation of the PICTA (economic integration of Small States) and PACER (PICTA countries + Australia and New Zealand) accords. New Caledonia and French Polynesia are in discussions with the Forum on their possibly joining PICTA.

Adopting the “Pacific Plan”:
A short-, medium- and long-term view of sustainable development in the region, the plan aims to address both the security concerns stressed by the area’s two major countries, Australia and New Zealand, and the Small States’ concerns to ensure sustainable development by having control of their resources.

Indeed, the region faces many challenges:
vulnerability to natural disasters (cyclones, tsunamis, etc.);
viability of fishing resources and control of their use;
energy issues: with the exception of Australia and PNG, the Pacific States are lacking in energy sources (except for alternative sources, i.e. wind and solar);
improvement of communication networks;
harmonization and coordination of regional transport;
environmental challenges: protection of coral reefs, waste management;
consequences of climate change;
public health (fight against HIV-AIDS, in particular, endemic disease, diabetes);
management training, youth education;
sound governance.

2/ Prospects for France
France is not lacking in assets to showcase for the regions, in two respects:

It is present through its communities:

The adoption of new statuses for our overseas communities, granting them real autonomy in the framework of the Republic, convinced the region’s States of our commitment to openness, especially as we are sparing no efforts in encouraging our communities to integrate themselves into the region and conduct an active regional policy there: cooperation agreement between New Caledonia and Vanuatu, strengthening of the ties between New Caledonia, Australia and New Zealand, and between French Polynesia and New Zealand.
Our communities are in a position not only to bring the skills of their institutions to the region, in particular in the areas of education and research, but in the framework of their institutions they are developing a political dialogue that could inspire the countries of the region in their own institutional evolution.
In addition, the State’s resources in the communities work for the entire region. Our armed forces intervene in the framework of the FRANZ agreement, the monitoring of EEZ and the fight against illegal fishing (cf. establishment of the tripartite declaration between France, Australia and New Zealand), and the training of Island State security forces.
It is the only EU member state present in the region. Deeply involved in financing the EDF, France has taken the initiative to enter into a constructive dialogue with the European Commission on the Pacific region in order to serve as an advocate of the region as well as of its Pacific communities, all the more so as the significant expiry of the establishment of the 10th EDF for the 2008-2013 period is approaching, the directions and objectives of which are being decided (achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, energy, protection and sustainable use of natural resources).

Fortified by these assets, France would like to develop with the Pacific Islands Forum a special partnership enabling it to set up a close and constructive political dialogue with the Forum, the regional political organization of the Pacific.

The recent trips of Mr. Baroin, Overseas Minister, to Australia (2-3 March 2006) and New Zealand (4-5 April 2006), where he was warmly received and during which the tripartite declaration on cooperation in terms of the fight against illegal fishing in the Pacific Islands was signed, tending to confirm that French demand corresponds to an expectation of these countries. The France-Oceania Summit of 26 June 2008 will most likely help to reinforce our partnership with Oceania.

Published on 12/02/2008

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