“Fiji and Vanuatu are two particular countries it is courting.”
For tiny Nauru, establishing diplomatic relations with South Ossetia and Abkhazia earned them a US$50 million assistance package from Moscow in 2009. The money has also flowed to Tuvalu since the world’s third least populated nation also recognized Russia’s troubled neighbors last year.
The PIF is also split over the recognition of Taiwan, however, as China has attained a degree of respectability within the forum through targeted aid, including a joint venture with New Zealand to provide the Cook Islands and its 11,000 people with clean water.
“This push also makes the forum less about its stated theme — Large Ocean Island States the Pacific Challenge — and more about nations shoring up recognition, in the case of China/Taiwan and Russia,” Sims said.
Russian-sponsored “assistance packages” not only legitimizes Fiji’s dictatorship and destabilizes Vanuatu’s government, but also comes at the expense of compromised foreign policies among the PIF.
That’s not to say that legitimate development assistance is not welcomed. Most PIF countries need sustainable aid from international partners like the U.S. $32 million offered by Clinton, which was primarily linked to climate change.
But “the Dutch auction”, as one long time observer put it, also comes amid other divisions within the Pacific ranks which is factionalizing and priming members for outside interference.
This became evident after a meeting of the Smaller Island States (SIS) which encompasses the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Republic of the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu.
Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna said the SIS would use its collective vote to support issues of mutual interest, particularly climate change, effectively acting as a sub-group within the forum.
A further layer has been added to PIF factionalism by Fiji, which was suspended by the PIF in 2009 at the behest of Australia and New Zealand in response to the 2006 coup.
Readmission is dependent upon holding democratic elections by 2014. However, Fiji has thrived despite its pariah status and built bilateral relations with countries outside its traditional sphere of influence through the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG).
The MSG is being viewed as a pre-cursor to the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF) which one senior diplomat here said would compete directly with the PIF in direct opposition to regional and PIF political heavyweights Australia and New Zealand.
In addition, independence movements in French Polynesia and to a lesser extent New Caledonia, are in the ascendancy causing consternation among their colonial masters in Paris and further concern over shifting Pacific alliances in Canberra and Wellington.
This was highlighted in the official end of summit communiqué with leaders again supporting the French territory’s right to self-determination but this time, following last year’s election of Oscar Temaru as President, diplomats said this would be a major regional issue going forward.
“I think that the international push into the Pacific is a sign of an increasingly multi-polar world, where new powers are challenging the traditional geopolitical structures of the region,” Sims said.
As such he said the Pacific needs to assert itself but not passively bend to “all the demands of new actors pushing for their own self-interest.”
Over the long-term it is only the Pacific states themselves which will suffer from this kind of factionalism and independent deals that are dictated by the highest bidders. What is needed is frank and open dialogue on a united foreign policy that could deliver the PIF real clout on an international stage that can always do with a bit more honesty.