Instability in the Pacific Islands: a status report

4 Jun 2018

The Pacific Islands are highly diverse in political status, population, development, migration prospects, and potential for instability. Resilience is most under challenge in western Melanesia: Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu are states-in-formation characterised by extraordinary linguistic and group diversity giving rise to weak consciousness of nationhood. Fiji is different: a weak democracy but a strong state. Many observers see increasing tensions, disputes, and violence over land in Pacific urban areas as people’s traditional connections with rural villages diminish and landlessness becomes more common. 

The ‘new Chinese’ in the region tend to be resented, and the potential for a return to conflict between Pacific Islanders and Chinese remains. Health systems vary in effectiveness across the region and are least effective in Papua New Guinea. Life for women in many Pacific countries is routinely constrained by fear of men, and women experience a high level of personal insecurity. Democracy has survived since independence in most Pacific countries, with the key exception of Fiji. Nauru has recently lurched towards authoritarianism and Fiji’s stability is too dependent on one man, Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama. PNG’s elections continue to be dominated by money politics. Bougainville is internally divided in the lead-up to the 2019 referendum on independence.

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