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Framing the Islands


The research for this book began in 1975 as fieldwork for an ANU thesis on the developing indigenous commitment to Pacific regionalism in the early postcolonial period. Over the next 45 years, the politics of regional diplomacy in the Pacific remained a primary focus of my research at The Australian National University and the University of the South Pacific. This book represents an attempt to share the results of this long research journey. I have therefore incurred a very large debt to an enormous number of people across the Pacific island region.

From that first field trip around the Pacific island region in 1975, I particularly want to thank the following for their insights on the early years of indigenous Pacific regionalism: Ahmed Ali, Poseci Bune, Karanita Enari, Kilifoti Eteuati, Teo J. Fuavai, Francis Hong Tiy, Tony Hughes, George Kalkoa, David Kausimae, Sione Kite, Robert Kwaniarara, Ruth Lechte, Falemoti Malietoa, Solomon Mamaloni, James Maraj, Robin Mauala, Spike Padarath, Vainga Palu, Macu Salato, Fred Sevele, Tomasi Simiki, Claire Slatter, Mefi Tauleolo, Fa`amatala Toleafoa, Palauni Tuiasosopo, Mahe Tupouniua, Sione Tupouniua, Sitiveni Vete, Albert Wendt and Felix Wendt.

Over the next three decades, I regularly visited the Pacific island region, including as a visiting fellow and lecturer at the University of the South Pacific and as an observer at the annual conferences of the South Pacific Commission. I owe a debt of gratitude to the many national, regional and international agency officials, as well as academic colleagues and journalists, who assisted me with my research into the politics of a very complex and evolving regional system over this period. They include Ron Crocombe, Graeme Dobell, Sean Dorney, Helen Fraser, Jemima Garrett, Sitiveni Halapua, Epeli Hau`ofa, Tarcisius Kabutaulaka, Robert Kiste, Joji Kotobalavu, Brij Lal, Noel Levi, Vito Lui, Nic Maclellan, Iosefa Maiava, Vijay Naidu, Tess Newton Cain, Patteson Oti, Maureen Penjueli, Ropate Qalo, Sitiveni Ratuva, Suliana Siwatibau, Claire Slatter, Asofou So`o, Bill Standish, William Sutherland, Larry Thomas, Iulai Toma, Dan Tufui, Morgan Tuimalealiifano, Kampati Uriam and Garry Wiseman.

Between 2011 and 2016, I was fortunate to be working at the University of the South Pacific as coordinator of the Graduate Studies in Diplomacy and International Affairs program. This was a time of extraordinary excitement in the development of a region-wide assertion by Pacific island leaders of a right to ‘chart their own course’ in regional and global affairs. I wish to acknowledge the many people who helped me understand the significance of these developments. They include Transform Aqorau, Nicola Baker, Collin Beck, Sala George Carter, Peter Folau, Nicolette Goulding, Vili Hereniko, Peter Kenilorea junior, Suzanne Lowe Gallan, Iosefa Maiava, Fulori Manoa, Sovaia Marawa, Wesley Morgan, Litia Mawi, Gordon Nanau, Anna Naupa, Robert Nicole, Raijeli Nicole, Michael O’Keefe, Patteson Otti, Maureen Penjueli, Cristelle Pratt, Claire Slatter, Jope Tarai, Fei Tevi, Sandra Tarte, Kaliopate Tavola and Dame Meg Taylor.

I particularly want to thank my close friends in Fiji who made Suva a home away from home over this long period of research: Nicola Baker, Vijay Naidu, Jen Namgyal, Raijeli Nicole, Robert Nicole, Ropate and Salote Qalo, Claire Slatter, William and Helen Sutherland, Daryl and Jacqui Tarte, Sandra Tarte, Larry Thomas and Morgan and Eileen Tuimaleali’ifano. Vinaka vakalevu!

From 2016 to 2018, the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy (APCD) at The Australian National University provided the ideal intellectual environment in which to write the last four chapters of the book, which bring together the contemporary story of Pacific regionalism as a series of diplomatic contests over security, development, climate change and the ownership of regional institutions. I would like to acknowledge Pauline Kerr for proposing the attachment and APCD Director Geoffrey Wiseman for his strong support for the project.

I am indebted to the historian Dipesh Chakrabarty, who in the mid 1990s, introduced me to postcolonial theory and, in particular, to the work of Edward Said. The reading of Orientalism marked a major turning point in my approach to understanding the politics of Pacific regionalism. I also have an intellectual debt to Epeli Hau`ofa, whose influential essay ‘Our Sea of Islands’ also led me in the direction of foregrounding the power inherent in the normative policy frames that were projected on to the Pacific island region over time. His influence on the project intensified when I met him at his home at Wanadoi in 1997 while he was working on ‘The Ocean in Us’. It is sad that he did not live to see his own counter-regional discourse—of a powerful Oceanic identity, emphasising the power of large ocean states rather than small islands—become the dominant ‘Blue Pacific’ ideological framing of the region in the second decade of the twenty-first century.

I thank Chris Reus-Smit, my colleague in the Department of International Relations at The Australian National University, for encouraging me to locate the Pacific experience of regionalism in a broader global theoretical debate about the political meaning of regionalism, and Tony Payne of Sheffield University for suggesting an approach that would foreground global epochs and their dominant ideas as the crucial context in which the regional diplomatic contests occur. I also acknowledge the influence of Geoffrey Wiseman’s concept of global diplomatic culture as a stimulus in examining the transitions in diplomatic culture at the regional level in the Pacific.

I am very grateful to those at ANU Press who have managed the publication process—to Stewart Firth, Chair of the Pacific Editorial Board, who has been very encouraging and supportive at all stages of the process; to Emily Hazlewood, ANU Press deputy manager; and to Teresa Prowse, who designed the cover. I would also like to thank Jan Borrie for her meticulous copyediting and indexing, and Mary-Lou Hickey for her editorial support and assistance at earlier stages of the process.

I would like to acknowledge Karina Pelling of the College of Asia and the Pacific Cartography, at The Australian National University, for creating the maps; and Tom Foley, ANU Pacific librarian, for helping me locate source materials in the Menzies Library.

Such a long journey also requires strong support from friends and colleagues along the way. I particularly want to thank Nicole George, Paul Keal, Alvaro Marques, Gavin Mount, Jacinta O’Hagan, Heather Rae, Amin Saikal, Peter Van Ness, Terence Wesley-Smith and Geoffrey Wiseman.

Paul D’Arcy, Chris Reus-Smit, Tony Payne, Sandra Tarte and Terence Wesley-Smith gave very strong support to the project over a long period and were kind enough to read parts of the manuscript and provide invaluable feedback. I would particularly like to express my heartfelt gratitude to Tony Payne, who was enormously helpful throughout, providing intellectual engagement with the argument, close reading of the text and personal encouragement. I am not sure the book would have been finished without Tony’s strong support in the final months.

Finally, I owe enormous gratitude to my wife, Annie, who has lived with this project all the years we have lived together. It would not have seen the light of day had it not been for her quiet patience and loving support as I worked through countless versions of the chapters over so many years. It has also been a joy to share some of that journey with her in Suva, Honiara, Rarotonga and Port Vila. I would also like to thank my daughter, Nikki, who grew old enough during the life of this project to critically and persuasively engage with the argument and to suggest the title of the book.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge my father, Ron Fry, who constantly provided enthusiastic encouragement for the project for 40 years; at age 100, he decided he could not wait any longer to see it finished, but he had confidence that it would happen.

Greg Fry


October 2019

Map 1

Map 1 Cultural areas of the Pacific

Source: CartoGIS, The Australian National University.

Map 2

Map 2 200-mile exclusive economic zones of the Pacific

Source: CartoGIS, The Australian National University.

Map 3

Map 3 South Pacific Commission boundaries

Source: CartoGIS, The Australian National University.

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