Compact for Pacific Islands
“Developing a grand compact for the pacific” – When I saw this policy recommendation by Prof John Blaxland of the Australia National University, I was pleasantly stunned. This was because it was absolutely the same idea that I had been suggesting for the Pacific over the last decade. Such a suggestion has been seen by some as a positive as seen by the reaction from the former President of Kiribati, the Hon. Anote Tong:
"I think it would be an arrangement which would be difficult for most of the Pacific countries named to turn down"
Of course, I found that there were also many objections to the idea of a compact, which included this as a form or neo-colonialism and against self-determination, etc. I am wondering whether these people who are against such a “compact” know that the Pacific islands people really welcome or even demand this kind of political arrangement?
Begging, or right?
At this moment, three Micronesia countries, Palau, Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia, have a Compact of Free Association with the US. Both the Cook Islands and Niue have a Free Association with New Zealand. What is a Compact? This is the special political agreement between small states and a metropolitan country which is explained in UN resolution 1541 (XV) Principle VI of 1960. Arrangement between countries are varied and modified reflecting the economical and political environment. Before the Trump administration the US government had totally lost their interest in their FAS. This caused much anxiety in the region and I believe that this anxiety led CCP to intrud into the region.
I have been working for the Pacific for 30 years, and one of my friends who is a Pacific political leader told me:
“Rieko, shall we keep begging? Our children and their children and.. . has to keep begging forever for assistance from overseas countries?”
I cannot forget this grief, and started thinking about what is self-determination, independence, colonization and the historical background of “Free Associated States”. I have suggested to this Pacific lawmaker that Japan should have Free Association or a political friendship treaty with his country. Of course, he agreed and encouraged me to proceed. In developing assistance under a political compact there was no need to ‘beg’ from Japan, as under a compact political agreement assistance becomes a “right” of their country.
UNCLOS and PICs
Prof. Blaxland proposal also argued about unmanageable, disproportional EEZ and PICs, which is also exactly the same as I lectured on at the Japanese Member of Parliament special committee on PICs and maritime security in 2017. My lecture was triggered to the changing direction of the Indo-Pacific strategy with maritime security under the Abe administration. I found many scholars misunderstood that small island states obtained a such a huge ocean, but if you knew the history of the arguments during the 70s, conferences of UNCLOSIII, small islands demanded a huge ocean as their “territory” to become independent state. This was totally against the concept of Mare Liberum - Freedom of the Seas which was proposed by Hugo Grotius in 1609, and the customary law of global society. The EEZ is a sort of compromise among Mare Liberum and demands from developing countries.
The concept or ideology of enclosing natural resources was a reflection of the resource nationalism and NEIO - New International Economic Order, in the 60s to 70s. We may need to examine whether national natural resource really helped economic independence and/or made people happy in small, developing states?
Japan and US should support Australia “Step up”
Japan and the US should support a proposal for the Australian compact with PICs and its “Step up”. I would like to support Prof Blaxland’s proposal, but I also need to point out the limits of Australian “sea power”. Since I launched the Micronesian sea-surveillance project in 2008, I have been closely observing Australia’s ocean security movement. Fortunately, I was lucky to have in my study group the Australian senator, the late Hon Russel Trood who was the Chair of Pacific economic and security committee, as well as a leading security expert, Dr Anthony Bergin, from ASPI. Australia made enormous efforts for the security of the Pacific Ocean since the 70s when the EEZ became a reality. However, in 2008, the Royal Australian Navy which was principally responsible for the Pacific maritime security declared that “chasing fish is not military responsibility”. I found that Australia’s sea power was limited. The number of personnel of RAN is just the same as the Japanese Coast Guard. Australia does not have a Coast Guard but a small capacity of board protection. With this limited capacity, they have to look after a large coastline and larger number of illegal immigrants who came by boats.
Looking after PICs oceans for them is just unrealistic. I agreed that Australia will make a political agreement, ie. Compact with PICs, such as Kiribati who does not have any political status with any other metropolitan country. However, Japan and the US who have the sea power needs to help Australia “Step up”.