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Thursday:  November 20, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in Solomon Islands (2)

Monday
Aug272012

Tiny Cook Islands Holds Big Pacific Islands Forum (REPORT)

(Video: AustraliaNetworkNews)

RAROTONGA - In the Cook Islands the 43rd annual Pacific Islands Forum  is about to get underway with climate change, trade and regional security expected to top the agenda as major powers vie for influence over a range of issues. The summit will run for a week.

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The Forum brings together 16 small island nations from across the South Pacific, and includes Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji  (which remains suspended after the latest military coup in 2006 left the military in charge, and later, court-ordered current President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau; the country then violated a promise to hold elections in 2009 to be dealt the suspension)  Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, The Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

A further 41 countries are sending delegations, including China, which has sought to expand its role in the region, where Taiwan has diplomatic recognition from a handful of countries.

(PHOTO: Aerial view of Rarotonga, part of the Cook Islands/Cook Islands Tourism)The Russians have also had mixed success here in winning support.  And in the past year, the United States has signaled a renewed emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region, deepening economic and security ties.

Highlighting the growing importance of the forum is the much anticipated arrival of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later in the week.

Clinton’s office has yet to confirm whether she will head the United States delegation but preparations are in place for what locals say would be the most important diplomatic visit since Britain’s Queen Elizabeth came to the Cook Islands in 1974.

CLIMATE CHANGE, BOUNDARY AGREEMENTS

Derek Fox, spokesman for the Forum, says two upcoming votes for non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council will add another layer to lobbying among delegates.

“Chinese have a big interest in the Pacific and that’s probably why the Americans are starting to show an interest again now.  And there are other agencies like the UN and the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank and countries quite distant from here who are showing an interest," said Fox.  "There’s an Israeli group coming and there is a Taiwanese delegation here.”

Fox says other issues include climate change and management of the Pacific Ocean, with announcements expected on a new marine park, boundary agreements and foreign aid packages.

(PHOTO: Tuvalu life/Flickr) For countries like Tuvalu, where the highest point is just 4.6 meters above sea level, aid for coping with climate change is fundamental. Many here believe climate change has also contributed to shifts in tidal patterns that have resulted in erosion of the islands.

Kora Kora, is a local politician and former Mayor of Manahiki, one of the small Cook Islands that sits just four meters above sea level and lies about 1,000 kilometers north of Rarotonga.  He says climate change is the biggest single everyday issue for the people of the Cook Islands and has resulted in a significant shift in migration patterns.

“We’ve lost most of our little islands that is in our lagoon, there’s no longer any soil or gravel on the top, now it’s all submerged under water.  Since 1997 when we had a big cyclone now our population back then was round 580 and up to now it’s down to 260 people on the island, so yes indeed it’s a big issue to talk about climate change,” stated Kora.

Pacific Islanders have complained for years that their interests, particularly in regards to climate change, have been overlooked by much bigger regional powers.  But many believe that the future could be different, with the so-called US “pivot” towards the region, coupled with China’s growing ability to extend its diplomatic reach into the South Pacific.

 --This article first appeared on VOANews, written by Luke Hunt.

Monday
Aug272012

Pacific Islands Forum needs to reaffirm its relevance (PERSPECTIVE)

(MAP: Member states of the Pacific Islands Forum/Wikipedia)FACT:   Rarotonga is the most populous island of the Cook Islands, with a population of 14,153 (census 2006), out of the country's total population of 19,569. The Cook Islands' Parliament buildings and international airport are on Rarotonga. Because it is the most populous island, Cook Islanders may often be referred to as Rarotongan, but they may come from one of the other 14 islands in the group, such as Aitutaki or Mangaia. Rarotonga is a very popular tourist destination with many resorts, hotels and motels. The chief town, Avarua, on the north coast, is the capital of the Cook Islands. (WK)

The Pacific Islands Forum Leaders' Summit in Rarotonga in the Cook Islands that opens today will be a watershed. It will either forge a new path for the region's pre-eminent institution or give ground to the alternative architecture that has grown since Fiji's suspension from participation.

That the stakes are high is evidenced by the unprecedented attendance of the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be joined by a large Chinese delegation, underscoring the point that the region is geopolitically important.

The summit provides an opportunity for Australia to influence how the region deals with outside powers and on what terms. In recent months Foreign Minister Bob Carr has injected a note of pragmatism into Australia's relations with Fiji and it remains to be seen what impact this will have.

The challenge for the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) is twofold.  First, its place at the centre of regional architecture needs to be cemented in light of the drift towards alternative forms of regional and sub-regional co-operation. Second, it needs an organizational renovation to face the challenges of globalization and development.

Australia and other donors have long identified the PIF as the key institution for implementing development policies in the Pacific. This is the orthodox function of the PIF and one Australia and New Zealand have largely bankrolled for more than 40 years. More recently, the PIF has taken on a diplomatic role. This political role was compounded by the response to the 2006 coup in Fiji as the PIF became the central vehicle for legitimizing the Australian-led sanctions regime.

(MAP: Dive the World) Six years of sanctions have not achieved their stated aims, in so far as Fiji has not returned to democracy. That said, Australia has reaffirmed its leadership to the other members of the PIF and to external powers and organizations such as the US, China, UN and the European Union. However, come 2014 when elections are held in Fiji the rationale for sanctions will end. Fiji will presumably be welcomed back into the PIF and as such Australia and its supporters will be faced with much more challenging diplomacy.

The rise of alternative forms of regionalism is a direct result of Fiji's suspension and poses the largest challenge to Australia. The Melanesian Spearhead Group, engaging with the Pacific meetings and the Pacific Small Island Developing States grouping at the UN have much in common, not the least that Australia is excluded from membership. They are largely driven by Fiji's "Look north plus" policy.

Fiji has made new friends and opened up new avenues of co-operation and as Australia chooses to re-engage it will be operating in a vastly different Pacific seascape. In this climate the continuing relevance of the PIF will need to be demonstrated rather than simply asserted. Fiji is not likely to accept the status quo and may need to be encouraged to resume its engagement with PIF.

The Melanesian Spearhead Group, etc, lack the institutional capacity of the PIF but are growing fast. As such, organizational renovation of the PIF is also a necessity.

The Pacific Islands Forum has greater capacity than other nascent forms of regional co-operation and the potential to remain the clearinghouse for aid. However, its central role is under challenge while its effectiveness is also being questioned. A recent internal review of the PIF Secretariat's operations found much to criticize and sparked a spirited defense from the Secretariat itself. The challenge will be to respond constructively to meet the diverse expectations of its members and the challenge from The Melanesian Group, etc.

Renovation must also focus on the role of the metropolitan powers (Australia and New Zealand). Their dominance of the political agenda highlights the importance of getting the balance between the interests of Pacific Small Islands Developing States and larger powers right. This dominance is relatively new as it arose in the context of former Australian Prime Minister John Howard's Pacific "arc of instability".

It is evident in current Prime Minister Julia Gillard's focus on using the PIF to renew the "Pacific Solution" (the name given to the Australian government policy of transporting asylum seekers to detention centers on small island nations in the Pacific Ocean, rather than allowing them to land on the Australian mainland).

(Video: Al Jazeera)

However, tension in the political agenda is evident in the stalemate over Fiji and is underscored by the growing regional interests of other powers, such as China, Russia and the US.

Australian policymakers have attempted to limit the influence of outside powers in their backyard. However, a failure to closely engage with Pacific interests could also make Australia appear like an outsider to some in the PIF. From this perspective it is no coincidence that sub-regionalism has grown during recent years.

The metropolitan powers have a central role to play, not least in regard to funding, but also in respect to middle-power leadership in relation to the 21st-century challenges facing the Pacific, such as those posed by climate change or illegal fishing in their extended economic zones.

It may be that the Rarotonga summit will be a turning point in the development of Pacific architecture for co-operation. Australia has major strategic interests in the region and it is an opportune time to refocus efforts and to reinforce the enduring nature of Australian support and friendship. Carr's recent leadership towards normalizing relations with Fiji is a positive development, but after six years the switch can't just be turned on. It may be that a possibility for enhanced regional co-operation exists within the PIF itself.

The Polynesian sub-group within the Pacific looks set to expand as the region's main representative body prepares to welcome Hillary Clinton as a VIP visitor.

(DRAWING: The Russian "Rurik" sets anchor near Easter Island on its way through the Pacific Ocean in 1816. Drawing by Louis Choris in early 1816./Wikipedia)Leaders of Polynesian countries are looking favorably at giving full membership to representatives of the indigenous people of New Zealand, Hawaii and Easter Island.

Cook Islands' Prime Minister Henry Puna and his Samoan counterpart Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi said the sub-group would address the issue of expansion in their final communiqué on Friday.

The Polynesian leaders will also discuss ways of improving their countries' access to the latest communications technology.

Two proposals to lay marine cables past the island nations have collapsed. Mrs. Clinton, the United States Secretary of State, is the forum's top-level visitor this year.

-- This article first appeared in the Australian, written by Michael O'Keefe.