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by Eva Wagner, Programme Coordinator Rule of Law, Energy and Development Policy

This is the latest edition of KAS Australia's Digital Snapshot - a potpourri of current affairs from Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. The weekly digital snapshot provides an analysis of selected media and think tank articles, intended to offer an overview of the debate in these countries. The original version includes hyperlinks and links for further reading.

Six months into the Covid-19 pandemic warrant an update on the situation in the South Pacific. Let’s take a look at the case numbers first, using Australia, Germany and New Zealand as benchmarks.

Australia with its population of about 25.5 million people has reported 26,049 cases and 678 deaths. In Germany (population of 83.2 million), 247,411 people have tested positive and 9,322 have died from - or with - it. In New Zealand (5 million people), 1,759 people have tested positive and 22 persons have died from - or with - it. Papua New Guinea (8.9 million people) has reported 471 cases and 5 deaths. Fiji (0.9 million people) has recorded 29 cases and 2 deaths. Timor-Leste (1.3 million people) has recorded 27 cases. The Cook Islands, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu have not reported any cases to date, meaning their coronavirus strategies, including border closures and discontinuation of international, regional and domestic travel, have proved to be successful. The short term impact on economies that depend on tourism is clear. What is unclear is the impact that these measures will have in the medium and long term, and what the road to recovery might look like.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has postponed the elections from 19 September to 17 October, saying the re-emergence of the coronavirus in the community was a cause for concern during the election period, and that she had to consider participation of voters, fairness and certainty. The National Party leader, Judith Collins, called for the elections to be postponed to next year, arguing it would be difficult for political parties to campaign, and that voters would be wary of voting. According to the New Zealand Herald, a survey showed that 60% of the people supported the delay. The NZ Parliament will dissolve on 6 September. There will be a pre-election economic and fiscal update between 7 and 21 September. Overseas voting starts on 30 September, and advance voting begins on 3 October.

Kiribati held general elections in April and presidential elections in June (see Digital Snapshot #16/20). Likewise, Niue held general elections in June this year. New Caledonia is scheduled to hold another independence referendum on 4 October. In the November 2018 referendum, 56% of voters were against and 43% in favour of independence.

Papua New Guinea, upon arrival of 48 Chinese workers destined for the Chinese-run Ramu Nickel mine in the Madang Province, who claimed to have been injected with an experimental vaccine, cancelled another flight carrying almost 200 workers destined for various Chinese projects in PNG and insisted that it was not a “testing ground” for vaccines. ASPI’s The Strategist agrees by saying that “Beijing is desperate to win the global race to develop safe, effective vaccines against Covid-19, but that’s no excuse for inflicting risk on the people of other nations without their knowledge and informed consent.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung asks: „War in the Pacific?“, noting that while “Pacific” referred to “ocean of peace”, the Pacific had seen some of the fiercest battles in history, and was now the venue of the “new cold war” between the US and China. Any military conflict could be triggered by a Chinese attack on Taiwan and an escalation in the South China Sea. Supremacy, we are told, was at the core of the conflict. Germany and the EU had failed as they did - with the exception of their China policy - hardly have any Asia strategy. Germany as an export nation would be particularly affected by any disruption of the Pacific trading routes. There would therefore be good reasons to discontinue its more or less passive position.

The German Government may have done just that by releasing its new policy guidelines for the Indo-Pacific region (see links below).

Click here for the full article and links


Eva Wagner

Eva Wagner

Senior Programme Coordinator
Rule of Law, Energy and Development Policy +61 2 6154 9323