The Pacific’s Independent Small Island States: Time Running Out?
Whatever their natural endowments and colonial inheritances, the future of the Pacific Island countries (PICs) of Nauru, Tuvalu and Kiribati must have seemed precarious at the time of independence (1968, 1978 and 1979 respectively) with their small populations (Nauru just over 6000; Tuvalu just under 8000; and Kiribati under 60,000) and isolated locations. In addition, all three countries lacked any formal arrangement with a metropolitan state. This set them apart from many other small island states and territories in the Pacific.
Over time these three countries have developed highly adaptive national survival strategies which involve: the exploitation of natural resources, including phosphates and fish; high levels of foreign aid; leveraging sovereign status (all now have diplomatic relations with Taiwan and an increasing number of other states); the use of shared specialist regional services (for example in the judiciary); the intermittent exploitation of windfall gains (such as selling the ‘.tv‘ internet domain in Tuvalu and operating a Regional Processing Centre in Nauru); and, to a limited but growing extent, the export of labour.
A recent workshop at the Australian National University explored the challenges facing these states and whether their improvisational models for national survival might be sustained, or might rather be overwhelmed by a combination of overpopulation, overfishing, weak resource management and climate change. Might a tipping point be approaching that would demand a step-change in national strategies and development partner engagement, particularly Australia?
Where Can Growth Come From?
Development barriers for these countries are well documented (Duncan et al. 2012; Winters and Martins 2004). All three suffer severe disadvantages of scale and distance which limit opportunities for economic growth, private investment and generation of government revenue. Patchy transport and internet connectivity also hinder development. So where can sustainable growth come from?