#60: Pasifik Diplomacy: Lost in Australia

Enter stage left: Foreign Minister, Marise Payne.

“Stepping up [in the Pacific] isn’t an option for the coalition, it’s an imperative…”

Exit stage left: Foreign Minister, Marise Payne

AS the US experiences a bout of Political cold, the Pacific is experiencing a space of increasing tension between traditional and non-traditional players.

It was in this context that the Pacific Island Forum Secretary, Dame Meg Taylor’s address at the ANU ‘State of The Pacific’ Forum (#SOTP2018) placed the concerns of the Pacific states.

Underlying this was Dame Taylor’s concern that Pacific states opined vulnerabilities had been, were being, magnified to the detriment of sovereignty. It has become popular opinion or geopolitical perception to view the Pacific as a region lacking in all manner of capability.

But Touching on China, she addressed sentiments on China in the Pacific speaking of the Pacific brand of Diplomacy that she hopes (and the rest of us) Australia can embrace.

But it seems these calls may have landed on shut doors as Foreign Minister Marise Payne exited the building.

FM Marise Payne’s absence during Dame Meg Taylor’s address provided a striking example of Canberra’s lack of nuance of understanding Pacific diplomacy, which I find rather odd given ANU’s place as a substantial thinker in advising on Australian foreign policy matters.

As a child growing up in PNG, I learned to sit and listen even when I didn’t have to. Dozing off during church sermons wasn’t tolerated and when I grew dejected of my parents’ telling me to stay awake, I was quickly reminded through the act of tough love.

Unfortunately, we can’t show tough love in formal diplomatic settings (I type as I picture my dad clench his jaw and give me the eyes).

These are life experiences we Pacific Islanders grow up with – one of those links that connects us – that we are using to build bridges between us.

Case to point, I recognised these links in New Zealand among my Pacific Island peers, appreciating that respect was as much a part of the Pasifik Wei as the sea was.

Australian MP’s may need a lesson in the Pacific brand of Diplomacy if they are serious about engaging with us.

A first lesson is that time can stand still in a Pacific setting. Insignificant traits like respect transcend time. I would venture to bet that when FM Marise Payne was in Nauru last week, Nauruan politicians did not leave during her speech.

Australia’s commitment to the region remains questionable at best. Money and Boomerang Aid only go so far.

A conscious effort in appreciating the Pasifik Wei would go a long way in making a case for your concerns; otherwise keep out till you learn some respect.

 

The Chinese on the other hand, they know the wei.

 

-Hans Lee

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