April 18, 2021
21st Maritime Silk Road: Islands Economic Cooperation Forum, Governance of islands, including the experience and conceptions of island development, how to build a governance system and foster the capacity.
Allow me to express my deepest gratitude to the Hainan Foreign Affairs Bureau for the invitation to participate in the Islands Economic Cooperation Forum, as part of the 2021 annual conference of the Boao Forum.
I would like to focus my short presentation on the issue of Governance of islands, including the experience and conceptions of island development, and how to build a governance system and foster the capacity, using the Pacific islands as an example.
The Pacific Ocean is the world biggest ocean.
This vast blue expense holds 25,000 livable islands, 21 countries or regions.
The structure and performance of an economy are determined by economic, political, legal and institutional frameworks and processes. These components of the overall framework are affected by the overall governance practice.
This is understood by all.
You see the great discrepancies between the members:
- You have Niue, 1 major island, 259 square kilometres of land, 390 000 km2 of Exclusive Economic Zone (or EEZ), and 1591 inhabitants.
- You have Tahiti, French Polynesia, 118 major islands, 4,500 square kilometres land, EEZ of 4.77 million square kilometers, 279,000 inhabitants.
- You have Solomon Islands, 6 major islands, 28,400 square kilometres of land, EEZ of 1.58 million square kilometers, and a population of 652,000
Pacific islanders are often left with a strong impression that the foreign officials and aid experts coming to advise us are not aware of the difficulties of governance of small island nations, nor the needs and/or expectations of these island governments and populations.
Here are some first ideas:
- Smallness and Governance : There exist a large body of literature on how smallness restricts growth and development of a country.
- Governance difficulties: Pacific population are very attached to their home islands. The home island is attached to your right to land and access to family and/or community land. A Pacific country with a great number of islands widely dispersed geography, will have very small number of inhabitants per islands (from the 10th to the 1000th). The government needs to install and upkeep infrastructure on each of these island (food and other basic products, drinking water, electricity, dispensary, regular transport, port or airport, waste treatment, school, post office, etc …)
- Government’s dilemma: Whether to centralize large infrastructures and resources on a larger island? or develop small structures everywhere?
- centralized option / resources on major islands: the problem is that more and more people tend to prefer to live on larger island, putting a strong pressure for employment, a stronger pressure for access to land (so effects land prices) and food resources, a stronger pressure on the fragile environment… all factors tending to destabilize a small society.
- decentralized option / Small structure on each island: capacity building, training, high construction and logistics cost, awkward management …
- Island countries are of course aware of the need to open up to the world, to be part of the world, embrace new ways of thinking, the need to create activities and not to be left too behind in the world huge momentum, but what level of openness?
- Openness to outsiders who wish to settle in? Openness to those who will create the needed momentum of new ideas and new perspectives? But at the same time, the need to protect local employment and find a balance between quantity and quality.
- Openness to foreign investment? but at the same time protecting the way of life and the social relationship that the population is so attached to.
China understands this ; China always asks what the local expectations are before starting a discussion.