China, Indonesia decline to back closer U.N. ties with Pacific Islands Forum

China and Indonesia did not back a United Nations motion for closer ties with the Pacific Islands Forum, in a move an expert says was motivated by some Pacific states' positions on Taiwan and West Papua.

The motion, for the United Nations (U.N) to cooperate more closely with the Pacific Islands Forum (P.I.F), was overwhelmingly supported in the General Assembly 137-0 this week. 

But the 12 nations who abstained caught the interest of senior security studies lecturer Dr. Anna Powles. (According to the U.N., China, Indonesia and Russia abstained.)

Dr. Powles, from New Zealand's Massey University said China’s abstentions were not entirely surprising, but disappointing, given its recent statements about working with the P.I.F.

“It makes a mockery of China’s assertion that it is wanting to play a role in the Pacific and a global role as a responsible actor,” she said.

“But given the fact that the next Forum meeting is happening in Tuvalu next week, and that fact that Tuvalu recognises Taiwan rather than China, I am not entirely surprised that they are using this to make a statement as well.”

The vote reflects an apparent growing tension between two of the largest global players' strategic interests in the Pacific and their positions on territorial unity. 

The delegate for Indonesia is reported to have abstained “for several reasons,” one of them being that “one member of the Pacific Islands Forum continued to interfere with Indonesia’s domestic affairs.”

One of the reasons was the voted on text - Cooperation between the United Nations and the Pacific Islands Forum – and its reference to the Communiqué of the Forty-ninth Pacific Islands Forum and its own references to West Papua.

China's delegate said they abstained because the “coordinator of negotiations failed to consider his delegation’s contributions and the concerns of other States,” while Russia’s delegate said the “negotiations failed to consider the justified concerns of certain States.”

Taiwan and China are in a tussle for diplomatic recognition in the region. 

Today, just six Pacific nations and 17 countries worldwide recognise Taiwan, including the Solomon Islands.

The Samoa Observer has learned that other states to abstain from the vote included: Laos, Cambodia, Senegal, Syria, Zimbabwe, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Myanmar and Uganda.

China's vote sent a message that geopolitics could trump commitments to climate change action, Dr. Powles said:

“The reason they chose to abstain on this vote, I would argue, has very little to do with the Pacific and very little to do with the actual issues around climate change and so forth, and much more to do with other geopolitical concerns they have.

“If any of the other countries that abstained were in any way influenced by China and China’s position on these issues, then it sends a message to Pacific countries that China can signal its distaste or dissatisfaction at the United Nations on issues of fundamental importance like climate change.

"When we consider the rationale for countries abstaining we need to factor in these wider geopolitical machinations that are going on.”

She said the other abstaining countries could be tied to a relationship with one of the three bigger countries, and so most likely were influenced to abstain.

Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat Secretary Dame Meg Taylor said she was not able to comment on the vote. 

The Guardian has reported the Solomon Islands have been given 100 days to decide whether to “transfer allegiance to China” from Taiwan, after their Foreign Minister met with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.  

Indonesia’s abstention, similarly to China’s, is at odds with its public relations messaging about its place in the region.

Last month, its government hosted a Pacific Expo in Auckland, New Zealand, which Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi called a “Pacific Elevation.”

“The Foreign Minister really pushed the line that Indonesia was part of the Pacific, so now to abstain on this vote seems to fly in the face of all that good rhetoric that it had in Auckland last month,” Dr. Powles said.

“To me, it demonstrates a lack of awareness about their policy approaches in the Pacific.”

She believes Indonesia should have voted in favour of the resolution and then continued to work with P.I.F on West Papua, the friction between them.

Last October, Vanuatu expressed support for West Papuan self-determination from Indonesia of which is a province.

Indonesia hit back, accusing the country of supporting separatist movements, and calling it “clueless.”

“It demonstrates such enormous sensitivity in Indonesia on West Papua and that came through very strongly in the Pacific Expo in Auckland,” Dr. Powles said.

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