Eleven days after the Nauru PIF Leaders’ Meeting last September, the Premier of Niue, Sir Toke Talagi, said on Radio New Zealand that “the Pacific Islands Forum is stuck in limbo and making little progress.” Considering Sir Toke’s standing in the region, having been in various leadership roles for his country and in the region since 2002 and the timing of the statement after the Forum’s premier annual gathering, it can be said that such anutterance was made with much thought. As such, it should not be taken lightly. However, it can be subjected to close analysis to get to the nub of the issue; which can help to re-direct our compass to re-set Pacific regionalism; and to the realisation of our collective aspirations.
Purely from a pedantic linguistic perspective, Sir Toke’s statement is oxymoronic. To be ‘stuck in limbo’ implies that one or something is unable to move from one position to another. It follows therefore that one or something cannot make any progress when ‘stuck in limbo’. However, Sir Toke clarified that the Forum was making progress, albeit, little. He substantiated his comment by his lack of success in trying to increase funding for climate change activities and by his dissatisfaction with the fisheries license systems not doing enough to combat illegal fishing. He also implied the lack of capacity building in Niue and, as such, he is considering appointing youth ambassadors to be posted out to various Forum countries to learn about these issues.
It can be envisaged therefore that the situation depicted by the Premier is best characterised by the Forum being ‘in limbo’ rather than ‘stuck in limbo.’ Being ‘in limbo’ carries the meaning that whilst the Forum may depict conditions of neglect and oblivion - specifically or generally, these do not rule out moving from one position to another. This article assumes such an analytical lens to assess one aspect of Pacific regionalism, aimed ssentially at securing learnings to direct our way forward.
In 1971, the inaugural meeting of the then South Pacific Forum was a joint one that followed separate meetings of two caucuses – one for the founding five independent Pacific Island Countries and the other for Australia and New Zealand (ANZ). In a 2015 report to Fiji’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, I listed 14 issues identified by the 1971 Joint Communique (the only one to date) for regionalism. Those that were aimed at regional economic integration included ‘the possibility of establishing an economic union.’
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