CONGRATULATIONS to Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah on the recent establishment of the Consultative Council on Foreign Policy under the Foreign Affairs Ministry. It is hoped that this council would be able to give advice that could rectify some of the short-sightedness in our foreign policy which is largely a legacy of the previous administration.
One such shortcoming is our continued lackadaisical policy towards the Pacific Island countries. Despite being remote and tiny landscapes, the Pacific Island countries, including Fiji, Nauru, Palau, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea and the Federated States of Micronesia, represent far more than meets the eye.
Their unique environment provides important ocean resources, including the world’s largest tuna fishery, as well as a virtual global laboratory to study the earliest impacts of climate change.
Alongside their other global partners, Malaysia too has an opportunity to do more with Pacific Island governments on unified approaches to develop needs that promote a common destiny for such a geographically vast region.
It was founded in 1971 as the South Pacific Forum. In 1999, the name was changed to Pacific Islands Forum to be more inclusive of the Oceania-spanning membership of both the north and south Pacific Island countries including Australia and New Zealand.
The Pacific Islands Forum has 18 member states and territories – Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. The Republic of Nauru is the current chair of the Pacific Island Forum.
So what is the relevance of the Pacific Island states to Malaysia?
A majority of them are individual member states of the United Nations and thus have voting powers. If Malaysia wants to play a bigger role in the United Nations by sitting on important commissions, including a potential return to the security council, support of the Pacific Islands Forum states is crucial.
Last year, Malaysia lost by one vote to Afghanistan to sit on the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. With the exception of Nauru, the rest of the Pacific Island countries did not vote for Malaysia. It is not widely known which Malaysian diplomatic mission serves the smaller Pacific Island states. Clearly, Malaysia has ignored the usefulness of these states.
Early this month, member states of the Western Pacific region of the World Health Organization, through their Health Ministers, elected a new regional director. The seat was hotly contested by Malaysia, Japan, the Philippines and New Zealand. Malaysia’s nominee did not make it because no significant efforts were made to enlist the help of the Pacific Island states, which also belong to the Western Pacific region of the World Health Organization.
Last month, the Republic of Nauru hosted the 49th Pacific Island Forum meeting. Malaysia, being a dialogue partner for the Pacific Island Forum, was also invited but no representative turned up, not even the supposedly accredited envoy there. It was another wasted opportunity for our country to establish friendship and harness the potential support of the Pacific Island countries.
The Foreign Affairs Minister needs to listen to the call made by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad at the UN General Assembly recently where he said: “The new Malaysia believes in cooperation based on mutual respect for mutual gain. We believe in the goodness of cooperation, that a prosperous neighbour would contribute to our own prosperity and stability.”
I hope the new Malaysia would take immediate steps to foster respectful and mutually rewarding collaboration with our friends in the Pacific.