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From Issue 50, Winter 2005/2006

UK pledges to 'stay active' in the Pacific'

THE British Government has told Island leaders that it would stay engaged in the Pacific despite

closing three diplomatic posts, and withdrawing from the Pacific Community, the development body.

This pledge was given in Port Moresby in October by a UK delegation led by John Battle, former Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister, in talks held after the annual meeting of the 16-nation Pacific Forum.

Representatives of the Forum had sought assurances from the UK that it was not pulling out of the region.

Britain’s delegates explained how the UK now offered financial help through global organisations such as the European Union, UN and World Bank.

They promised that Britain would work through EU to sharpen existing financial aid, and formulate the European strategy to align it with the new Pacific plan, which sets out ways to strengthen regional cooperation in economic growth, sustainable development, good governance and security.

Although the UK’s resident diplomatic posts would be reduced from four to three in 2006, this still matched the number of posts held by France, it was pointed out.

In his opening remarks, Mr Battle said that Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office had had to look closely at its priorities, due to the ever- increasing demands on limited resources.

“As a result, this year sadly sees the closure of posts in Kiribati, Vanuatu and in March 2006, Tonga. However, our commitment to the Pacific region remains strong and forward looking.

“We are strengthening our high commission in Suva, and have appointed a regional officer there who will take up his appointment early next year. Staff will make regular visits to those islands and others to which we are already accredited, but where we do not have resident representation.”

Mr Battle was asked to lead the British group after the Forum the Islands’ summit - was switched from August to October. This clashed with commitments made by Ian Pearson, the current minister responsible for UK-Pacific relations, who had intended to go to Port Moresby.

Britain is not a member of Forum, but is one of the 13 nations that have discussions afterwards with a panel of Forum representatives in the so-called post-Forum dialogue. Other non-Forum countries taking part included the US, China, Indonesia, and France as well as the European Commission.

Mr Battle, who as a Foreign Office minister led the UK at similar talks in Kiribati in 2000, said the Forum meeting was “an important date in our calendar”. It provided the means to identify common problems and goals.

“We very much welcome the opportunity to strengthen our relations with friends in the Pacific and those who share common interests”, he said. “Although it is a long way from the UK, we share similar challenges from terrorism and international crime, HIV/AIDS and drugs.”

HIV/AIDS continued to be an issue of common concern with 28,000 or more cases of HIV positive in Papua New Guinea, and the prospect of 38 per cent nationally by 2020. This would result in huge losses in the workforce.

The problem did not seem to be so severe in other Pacific countries, but it was important to take action before it got out of control, he stressed.

Britain had doubled its contribution to the global fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria - increasing the UK contribution to over £150 million.  It was also channelling funds through multilateral bodies such as the European Union, UNDP, and Asian Development Bank.

The main outcome of this year’s Forum proper was agreement on the Pacific plan, as well as a Roadmap to guide Island states through the initial phases over the next three years.

Mr Battle and his team made clear Britain supported the plan and its objectives in the belief that, in a globalising world, regional integration made sense.

As the EU current president and the only European state besides France at the Port Moresby meeting, Britain promised to press the European Commission and EU member states for support.


Edwin’s last mission

IN one of his last acts for his beloved Pacific, Edwin Smith, Pacific Islands Society Secretary, who died suddenly  in December, flew to Fiji in November to deliver a gold signet ring on behalf of the Black Watch to the son of a Fijian war hero who was killed in Iraq.

  Edwin meet young Savenaca

 All our members have been saddened by Edwin’s sudden death, as am I. Edwin’s  enormous energy and enthusiasm have made a tremendous contribution to our Society, and it is especially sad that he did not live to enjoy the Society’s Jubilee Year, into the planning of which he had put so much.

- Michael Walsh, Chair, Pacific Islands Society, who has expressed sorrow on behalf of   the Society to Edwin’s family




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