Jan 24, 2019 Last Updated 11:13 AM, Jan 19, 2019

In a crucial referendum on self-determination, more than 141,000 New Caledonians went to the polls on 4 November to determine the political status of the French Pacific dependency. After twenty years transition under the 1998 Noumea Accord, the referendum
posed the question: “Do you want New Caledonia to accede to full sovereignty and become independent?”

In an unprecedented turnout, 56.7 per cent of registered voters decided to remain within the French Republic, while 43.3 per cent voted Yes for independence.

These bald figures, with a clear majority opposing full sovereignty, suggest a setback for New Caledonia’s independence coalition, the Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS). In reality, the size of the Yes vote put smiles on the faces of independence leaders and supporters.

Daniel Goa is President of the Union Calédonienne (UC) party and spokesperson for the FLNKS. After the referendum, Goa thanked supporters and pledged to continue to another vote in 2020: “We lost on the numbers, but for us it’s a victory.”

“For the Kanak people, the first people, this is a great victory, as we have loudly and clearly expressed our perspective without ambiguity and without recourse,” he said. “Who now will contest the justice of our struggle, who now will challenge our very existence?”

In the aftermath of the referendum, everyone realises that the Kanak independence movement has new wind in its sails. They lost on referendum day, but defied all pre-poll predictions and showed that there is still overwhelming support for independence amongst the indigenous Kanak people (symbolically, in the northern tribe of Tiendanite, home of assassinated FLNKS leader Jean-Marie Tjibaou, 100 per cent of those voting said Yes).

“This large Yes vote reinforces our convictions,” Daniel Goa said. “We lacked just 9,000 votes to transform our dream into reality. Despite all the shackles we faced in getting our message out in the campaign, and the fear campaign launched by the other....

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What was supposed to be the summit that showcases Papua New Guinea to some of the world’s powerful economies ended up being the show ground for a US-China power struggle in the largest island in the South Pacific.

It was an APEC Summit of one drama after another, fuelled by the public tussle for influence in what has historically been the domain of influence of the US and its Pacific allies of Australia to a larger extent and New Zealand to some extent.

Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin called the summit a “tragicomedy of errors,” putting the blame squarely not on the host, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill but on the “Chinese government.”

The Jakarta Post newspaper on the other hand called it a “botched Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.” Its editorial carried the headline, ‘Make APEC boring again.’

The war of words between the two economic giants in the APEC membership of China and the United States overshadowed the Port Moresby meeting. For the first time ever in the history of APEC, delegates could not agree on the adoption of the summit declaration.

APEC chair O’Neill reportedly exclaimed, “you know the two big giants in the room, what can I say?” Delegates said the US had wanted a much stronger language in the declaration against the World Trade Organisation while Beijing wanted no mention of fighting protectionism and unfair trade practices in the document. Such a mention could only be targeting at China, they protested. “APEC has got no charter over the World Trade Organisation,” O’Neill was quoted as saying. “That is a fact. Those matters can be raised at the World Trade Organisation.”

Blame game
Depending on who you talk to, the failure of the adoption of the APEC Summit declaration in Port Moresby was...

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A month before New Caledonia’s referendum on self-determination, local mayors from around the country gathered on 4 October at the French High Commission in the capital Noumea. 

Hosted by French High Commissioner Thierry Lataste, the meeting discussed preparations for the looming referendum on the French Pacific dependency’s political status. On Sunday 4 November, New Caledonians will vote on the question: “Do you want New Caledonia to accede to full sovereignty and become independent?” As the French State’s official representative in New Caledonia, High Commissioner Lataste highlighted the importance of working with local officials to cover the whole territory.

“As with all elections, the mayors France prepares for New Caledonia referendum are indispensable participants,” he said. “The vote will take place in each municipality, in each town hall, so they play a crucial role.”

It’s a major exercise, with 283 polling stations across the country, from the mountain valleys of mainland Grande Terre to outlying atolls in the Loyalty Islands, Belep and the Isle of Pines.

The vote is the culmination of a twenty year transition under the Noumea Accord, signed in May 1998 between the French State, the Kanak independence movement Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS) and the antiindependence party RPCR. After violent clashes between supporters and opponents of independence during the 1980s, the Noumea Accord created new political institutions and a multi-party government, initiated economic reforms and began the transfer of powers from Paris to Noumea.
The 1998 Accord deferred a referendum on self-determination for twenty years, but time has moved on. Voters will turn

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The acquisition of land on a large scale by ‘new’ Chinese in the Pacific region could potentially be a trigger for instability in the future, a new report has suggested.

Authored by Dr. Stewart Firth, a Research Fellow at the Australia National University’s Department of Pacific Affairs, College of Asia and the Pacific, the report is titled: ‘Instability in the Pacific Islands: A Status Report’ and was released in June by Lowly Institute, a Sydney-based independent policy think tank.

Apart from providing a general overview on the current socio-economic and political status in Pacific Island countries, the report dwelled specifically on six key areas said to have the potency for instability in the future.

One of these key areas is immigration, which singularly focused on the new wave of Chinese influx into the region and why this trend could be a ticking time bomb for social instability in this part of the world.

“For the most part, the Pacific Islands are countries of emigration rather than immigration. Chinese migrants are the exception, making China the only development partner whose citizens migrate to the Pacific Islands region,” the report noted.

Making the distinction between ‘old Chinese’ in the region – these are Chinese descendant Pacific Islanders whose ancestors arrived a century or more ago – and ‘new Chinese,’ who are “‘sojourners’ with no intention of staying or becoming citizens,” the report said these ‘new Chinese’ typically use Pacific Islands as a foothold for entry into the more developed countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

Among this new group are the socalled ‘new entrepreneurial migrants’ who “typically arrive on tourist visas, pay bribes to immigration officials, or walk off fishing boats at Pacific ports.” 

“Most are poorly educated, have no professional or trade qualifications, and could not legally enter Pacific Island countries. They start small trading concerns, investing in bakeries, low-end restaurants and clothing stores – trading activities usually reserved for Pacific Islanders.

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As New Caledonia moves closer to a referendum on self-determination on 4 November, Kanak leader Daniel Goa has been touring the Pacific, seeking regional support to monitor the decolonisation process.

At the end of a week-long visit to Australia in July, Goa told Islands Business: “We look to Australia, New Zealand, our Melanesian brothers who have always supported us, but also the Micronesian countries and the Polynesian countries to support us at this crucial time.”

The referendum on self-determination comes at the end of a twenty-year transition established by the Noumea Accord, signed in May 1998 by the French State, New Caledonia’s independence movement Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste  (FLNKS) and leaders of political parties opposed to independence.

Since 2012, Daniel Goa has served as president of Union Calédonienne, the largest party in the four-member FLNKS coalition.

At the FLNKS Congress last February, he was chosen as official spokesperson for the independence movement in the lead up to November’s referendum.

During his visit to Australia, Goa met with Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop, Minister for International Development and the Pacific Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and DFAT officials.

He also met High Commissioners of the four independent Melanesian nations, to discuss the role of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) in the lead up to the referendum.

The delegation also met a range of trade union, university and community representatives, with the FLNKS spokesperson presenting a keynote speech at the Lowy Institute in Sydney.

“The message was the same at all of our meetings,” Goa told Islands Business.

“After 20 years of the Noumea Accord, we have made much progress with economic re-balancing, the creation of new political institutions and addressing the rights of the Kanak people. But we are at a crucial time, with the referendum in November.

“We are looking to our neighbours to support us as we take the next step, to vote Yes or No on the transfer of the sovereign powers that would make us an independent nation. For the FLNKS, we are hoping for a Yes, so we can be an independent state to play our role in the concert of independent nations of the Pacific, at a time of major change in our region.”

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