30 Oct 2023

Pacific news in brief for October 30

6:11 pm on 30 October 2023
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International undersea internet cables for Pacific Island countries (file) Photo: Dr Amanda H A Watson and CartoGIS ANU

Pacific - cables

Google will run undersea cables to at least eight Pacific nations under a joint US-Australian deal.

Reuters reports Canberra will contribute US$50 million and Washington is adding another US$15 million.

The deal will expand an existing commercial project by Google in the region to Micronesia, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced the joint deal at a White House press conference.

"Australia and America are supporting the connectivity of the region and today we announced the new funding for sub-sea cables in the Pacific, further support for infrastructure development including efforts to increase the Pacific's access to financing," Albanese said.

American Samoa - membership

Associate membership of the Pacific Islands Forum for the United States territories in the region is high on the agenda for US Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs Carmen Cantor.

American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas (CNMI) and Guam have been seeking associate membership under Washington's guidance.

American Samoa Governor Lemanu Peleti Mauga, who's in the US Virgin Islands for the US Coral Reef Task Force meeting, spoke with Carmen Cantor about the subject.

The Governor has revealed US government lawyers are actively exploring the possibilities of Guam, the CNMI, and American Samoa, becoming associate members of the Forum under certain conditions, but no other details are available.

Fiji - human rights

The Fiji government has withdrawn from being a party to a joint statement urging China to end its violations of human rights in Xinjiang which was delivered to the UN by 51 countries earlier this month.

In a statement on Monday, the government said it reaffirms its unwavering commitment to building enduring cooperation on the principles of mutual respect for sovereignty and "non-interference" with the domestic affairs of diplomatic partners."

It said in this regard the Fiji government announces its withdrawal from being party to the joint statement issued at the UN Third Committee on 18 October 2023.

Fiji human rights advocate Shamima Ali said the u-turn like other decisions made in regards to China reeks of cheque-book diplomacy.

Bougainville - mining

The autonomous Papua New Guinea region of Bougainville and the mining company Bougainville Copper Ltd (BCL) say they are close to resolviing a long running legal dispute.

BCL took legal action in 2018 after the Bougainville government denied it an exploration licence, resulting in Judicial Review proceedings in the National Court of PNG, which are still ongoing.

The Bougainville government said since then it has acquired a 36.45 percent shareholding in the company and is eyeing another 36.45 percent presently held by the PNG government.

BCL now also has five Bougainvillean directors and the Bougainville government said it is in the interests of Bougainvilleans to have constructive relations with a company that is locally owned and operated.

Both parties have agreed on terms for a deed of settlement that would see BCL drop the judicial review proceedings once the parties have delivered on a series of undertakings.

These include BCL contributing funds to assist Panguna reburials and reactivating the Bougainville Copper Foundation education scholarships programme while the government would reconsider the application for an exploration licence.

The government points out that this is not a mining licence - that that is subject to a separate process.

The Panguna copper and gold mine in Bougainville was closed down for operations in 1989 at the start of the civil war.

The Panguna copper and gold mine in Bougainville was closed down for operations in 1989 at the start of the civil war. Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

Tonga - drought

Tonga's government is planning to provide desalination machines to the outer islands to convert seawater into drinking water during the current drought caused by El Niño conditions.

Last month, El Niño was officially declared for the kingdom by the Tonga Meteorology Service.

Prime Minister Hu'akavameiliku Siaosi Sovaleni said the drought season is a pressing issue, especially for the outer islands.

He told local media that the government's main concern is to provide sufficient water resources for the outer islands.

Tongatapu and 'Eua are already in drought conditions, drought warnings are in place for Ha'apai and Vava'u Island divisions, and drought alerts are in place for Niua-toputapu and Niua-fo'ou.

Tonga - WHO

Tonga's Minister of Health Saia Piukala says he will step down in his role once he takes up his new position as WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Region Office early next year.

Dr Piukala was elected by Health ministers and other senior officials from the Region's Member States on 17 October.

He is the first Tongan and Pacific person to take up the regional role.

It is expected that he will take office as the Regional Director on 1 February next year, for an initial term of five years.

Dr Piukala said he wished to continue his work in Tonga as the Minister of Health, before embarking on his new journey.

The WHO Western Pacific Region is home to more than 1.9 billion people across Asia and the Pacific.