Remarks by the Secretary General, Dame Meg Taylor, at the Launch of the book, “Framing the Islands: Power and Diplomatic Agency in Pacific Regionalism”

Remarks to launch the book – Framing the Islands: Power and Diplomatic Agency in Pacific Regionalism

Delivered by the Secretary General ,Dame Meg Taylor

11 November 2019

 

I am delighted to be here this evening at the invitation of Greg Fry to launch his new book, Framing the Islands: Power and Diplomatic Agency in Pacific Regionalism.

The political framing of our region is a particularly pertinent issue at this moment in the Pacific’s history. In his book, Greg invites us to consider how the ‘idea of the Pacific’ has “implications for the authority of particular positions in current debates about who belongs to the region, who should speak on its behalf and what ideas it should stand for”. In this precise way, the book provides a useful take-off point for the development of the 2050 strategy for the Blue Pacific continent endorsed by Forum Leaders at their meeting in Tuvalu this year.

Indeed, Framing the Islands is essential reading for students, scholars and practitioners of Pacific Island politics. It provides a clear and robust conceptual framework to help us navigate our way through the contested past, present and future of Pacific regionalism. It offers an extensive and thorough account of the history of this contestation, across various domains, from which we can learn and draw inspiration.

A particular strength of the book I feel is the way it captures the essence of Pacific regionalism as a regionalism not simply based on structures, or what Greg refers to as a more coercive form of regionalism, but on political savvy and adaptability. For example, as opposed to more coercive regionalism based on the EU model, Greg outlines four ways in which Pacific regionalism has manifested: (1) the constitution of a strategic political arena for the negotiation of globalisation; (2) the provision of regional governance; (3) the building of a regional political community; and (4) the operation of a regional diplomatic bloc. All four constitute Pacific regionalism and each have been emphasised and executed, as Greg outlines, at different times in contingent rather than rigid ways.

This conceptualisation of regionalism I think extends the way it is conceived in the Framework for Pacific regionalism, which is as a sort of continuum from coordination and cooperation to economic and political integration. Adding Greg’s roles for regionalism to this provides us with somewhat of a 3D model for thinking about a more dynamic Pacific regionalism.

Therefore, perhaps contrary to Greg, I don’t think we should be dismissive of opportunities for regional integration in the Pacific, whether they be economic, political or based on something else.  I would argue that the Rarotonga Treaty can be considered as an example of regional integration through which national sovereignty has been transcended though delineating a shared ocean space that is subjected to regulatory actions. Therefore, to dismiss ‘coercive integration’ from the beginning as irrelevant to the region would seem to go against the dynamic and contingent approach to regionalism that is the strength of Greg’s conceptual framework.

Greg’s book is a celebration of Pacific agency in regional and global affairs, a story that is far too often overlooked. In particular, Greg points to the emergence of Pacific Island led institutions and diplomatic efforts that have successfully amplified the voice of Pacific Islanders. However, it is of significance that Greg claims the ‘powerful’ framing of the Blue Pacific continent has led somewhat of a renaissance for Pacific regionalism. I say significant because this framing has been led by the Forum, including rather than excluding Australia and New Zealand. I think this point speaks to the maturing relationships within the Forum grouping that the Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa spoke about last year, a collective maturity which I believe was palpable during the Forum meeting in Tuvalu earlier this year.

Framing the Islands raises many important questions to help us all think through the future of Pacific regionalism. For example,

  • For whom should Pacific regionalism serve?
  • How are we to define its purpose, agency and identity?
  • What form, or forms will regionalism need to take in the future to remain of real and independent political significance?

Such questions are not simply academic. In today’s context of a climate crisis and heightened geopolitical engagement in the region, the answers to such questions have very real and concrete consequences for the future of our Pacific region.

So, allow me to congratulate Associate Professor Greg Fry on what is not only a remarkable academic achievement but a work of political significance for our region. And it gives me great pleasure to officially launch Greg Fry’s Framing the Islands.

[ENDS]