Article Discussed: Leslie, H., & Wild, K. (2018). Post-hegemonic regionalism in Oceania: examining the development potential of the new framework for Pacific regionalism. The Pacific Review, 31(1), 20-37.
The recent splintering of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) provides an opportunity to assess the history and the future of Pacific regionalism, and whether forums like the PIF truly progress Oceanic agendas.
The Pacific Island Forum (PIF) originated in 1971 when the region was transitioning from colonialism to independence. The purpose of the PIF was to provide a forum in which Pacific leaders could debate and co-ordinate responses to local issues, as well as provide regional direction and strategy. In the spirit of independence, the PIF promised Pacific states increased self determinism and autonomy from colonial powers. However, the PIF among other regional governance institutions, included western affluent countries such as Australia and New Zealand in its membership. These countries, along with institutions like the World Trade Organization (WTO), have generally pushed the region towards greater economic integration according to neo-liberal norms through these governance institutions. Pacific nations generally have not controlled the agenda of regional governance institutions like the PIF, and therefore a distinctly Pacific form of regionalism has failed to emerge.
Leslie and Wild (2018) outline the development of the 2014 Framework for Pacific Regionalism (FPR). This framework was designed to address the undue influence western nations, foreign organizations, and interests groups, were having in setting the agenda of the PIF in unproductive ways. The FPR introduced a new organizing body, the Sub-Comittee on Regionalism (SSCR), into the process of setting the agenda. The SSCR is comprised of elected officials from member states tasked with severely culling the agenda to be debated by leaders in the PIF, to a very few topics deemed relevant, as well as having to potential to be acted upon collectively by Pacific states. The introduction of the SSCR eliminated the possibility of interest groups to slip topics into the agenda that would clutter and disrupt the debate from the most pertinent issues at hand; as well limit the possibility for NZ and AUS to dictate the direction of the sessions.
Leslie and Wild (2018) argue that this restructuring of the PIF represents a move towards a new post-hegemonic form of regionalism, however they also tentatively point out the mixed results of the FPR in producing collective regional action on the issues of West Papua and cervical cancer. The current disintegration of the PIF further suggests that regardless of this new structure, there are great gulfs between Pacific nations in setting a Pacific agenda as well as finding solutions to shared issues. The group discussed that perhaps these regional governance structures emerging from the colonial period are just not conducive to find shared ground according to the Pacific way. Perhaps more distinctly Pacific structures of governance need to be developed.
TransOcean is a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant project