Sunday Feature: An Insider's View from the Outside

Nesian is a pseudonym for a moderate, Fiji-born, part-Fijian, Hindi-speaking, sky-blue passport-carrying, former Fiji-resident. An `Insider's View From the Outside' is the resultof years spent hinking about all that has happened since the 2000 coup.

Aid Addiction

Fiji and its Pacific Island neighbours lie in the most aid-dependent territory in the world. This reliance ranges from about two percent of GDP in Fiji to 50 percent of GDP in the Marshall Islands. In a region with little to offer as export, the extra $US1 billion per annum is a welcome boost to the national treasuries.

These aren’t imaginary figures that have come out of my back pocket. They are from the Pacific Economic Survey 08 report, which in turn used data from organisations like the Asian Development Bank, International Monetary Fund and even the Uganda Communications Commission.

But Pacific nations have learned to rely on this aid to provide and maintain, among other things, costly public infrastructure and utility services. Which makes Pacific Islands easy pawns for countries seeking to further their national interest on the international stage.

Two of the most vigorous players in this arena are China and Taiwan. For years, these two adaptations of Sino nationhood, the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China, have battled for diplomatic recognition in the Pacific. At the moment Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu recognise PRC, Taiwan. Cook Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu acknowledge ROC, China.

In some of these islands, competition between China and Taiwan permeates so deeply that one of the two Chinas will support the party in government and the other will support the opposition. The end result of course is when there is a change in government, there is a corresponding shift in loyalty to the other China.

Japan is a controversial operator in the region. Whenever international pressure builds against its whaling program, its behind-the-scenes manoeuvring for support intensifies. Six out of 14 Pacific Island countries are currently members of the International Whaling Commission. They are Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. At various times in the past, Japan has been able to extract a sympathetic vote from these six in exchange for aid.

The latest to reposition itself as a friend of the Pacific, or rather to recognise that the region can be exploited, is Turkey. This is a country with no tangible links whatsoever with the Pacific. Yet here it is and for what purpose this diplomatic foray? I’ll give you a hint: Turkey is a candidate for one of the non-permanent seats allocated to the Western European and Others Group (WEOG) at the United Nations Security Council for 2009-2010. This is a seat it last held in 1961 and it is vigorously lobbying for support from other UN member states.

The Pacific’s addiction to international aid also makes the region easier to control. This is a fact not lost on the region’s traditional aid partners Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

It’s been used often enough against Fiji. Whenever the country takes a detour from democracy, down go its foreign aid allocations. Roads and public services fall into disrepair, discontent rises, political leaders realise that the democratic highway really is paved with gold and so begin the trek back.

But this is what globalisation has wrought and the Pacific needs to realise that it will always be at the mercy of the rest of the world.

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