A unified Melanesian Spearhead Group, backed by China, could provide a counterweight to the strong influences exerted by Australia and New Zealand through the Pacific Islands Forum.
The year 2010 saw a series of complex and sometimes contradictory shifts in relations between the members of the island Pacific, centred on the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) and its members’ attitudes to the regional status of Fiji—which was suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum in 2009 but has remained a member of the MSG.
In 2010 the outgoing chair of the MSG, Vanuatu’s Prime Minister Natapei, called off a meeting of the MSG Leaders’ Summit that would have seen Fiji’s Commodore Bainimarama succeed to the chair. The Fijian leader countered by organising what was initially referred to as an ‘MSG Plus’ meeting (later rebadged as ‘Engaging Fiji’), with funding from China, to which non‑MSG Pacific leaders were invited—prompting some commentators to accuse Bainimarama of attempting to ‘hijack’ the MSG and weaken the Pacific Islands Forum. In December, MSG leaders achieved a reconciliation between Vanuatu and Fiji, and Bainimarama was confirmed as chairman.
With a meeting of the MSG due to be held in Fiji in the first quarter of 2011, this paper reviews the recent history of the MSG and considers the possible implications of events for Australia’s role in the region.