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From diplomatic sterility of windowless Forum room to vibrant Cloud, a mixed bag


Former All Black icon Michael Jones in the video report on the Pacific Islands Forum. Video: Christopher Chang and Alexander Winkler / PMC.

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Alexander Winkler

It feels like the Rugby World Cup has already begun. The signs for the fan trail from Britomart to Eden Park are up, an international crowd strolls up and down Queen St and the Cloud – also know as “Party Central” – has opened.

However, the official beginning of the Cup is only on Friday. Until then, it is the 42nd Pacific Islands Forum that dictates Auckland’s official agenda. Leaders and representatives from 15 Pacific islands states are in Auckland this week to discuss the progress of Pacific collaboration.

And yet it is the Rugby World Cup spirit that goes along with the negotiations and the cultural diversity that is displayed around the city.PIF 40 years logo

The Pacific Showcase in the Cloud at Queen’s Wharf is one of the major tourist magnets to present Pacific culture as an official side event to the Forum in the lead-up to the Cup.

But the prominence of the two events combined has also drawn an international audience that includes the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, and the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso. And this official exposure raises diverse expectations.

While the leaders are having a dinner after the official powhiri at the Auckland Museum, the delegates are meeting for a cocktail party at the Cloud.

Nileema Noble, UN Resident Coordinator for Samoa, Niue, the Cook Islands and Tokelau, says the Forum needs to think on long-term initiatives to act against climate change.

“Often politicians unfortunately are hobbled by short-term issues but I have a lot of confidence that we have among the leaders here very pragmatic people.”

Noble also says gender issues are extremely important and need to be addressed by the forum.

“I’m hoping very much that we have leadership who see not only the human rights aspect of it but also the economic aspect. When you have half of the population being vulnerable, being affected by issues of physical abuse, then you’re not optimising your population at all,” she says.

In contrast, the expectations of the deputy director of the Pacific Islands Centre in Tokyo, Takehiro Kurosaki, are more focused on economic aspects.

He hopes that trade partnerships will develop further and says the Japanese government is currently evaluating options to strengthen tourism opportunities with Pacific Islands, specifically the Cook Islands.

For their negotiations, the leaders meet in Sky City’s New Zealand Room. It is a dark, windowless room with a square arrangement of tables in the middle where the Prime Ministers and Presidents are seated. In the rows behind them are the delegates to advise their leaders on the issues.

The room is a strong contrast from the lively and colourful cultural displays in the Cloud, at the Museum and on the streets of Auckland. It resembles a diplomatic sterility that feels detached from what is happening outside the official programme, even more so from the unofficial side-events.

This unofficial programme includes activities offered by non-governmental organisations which have invited the public to take part in the discussion around key topics that are affecting the Pacific region.

However, Oxfam New Zealand executive director Barry Coates says the forum itself needs to overcome challenges and increase its effectiveness, by fulfilling its promises as well as opening up further to hear society’s input.

“We need things to happen on a regional level rather than in a dark room.”

But he also says that by setting up the Pacific Showcase, the New Zealand government was very generous to present the whole Pacific region rather than New Zealand only.

Coates hopes that all the side events and the discussions that go along have fruitful effects and their messages reach the leaders.

The forum will present its outcomes on Thursday afternoon before leaders and New Zealanders can finally turn towards the rugby.

Alexander Winkler is a German international student journalist on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course in AUT University’s School of Communication Studies.

Other Pacific Islands Forum 2011 stories, audio reports, videos and pictures filed by Alexander Winkler and the Asia-Pacific Journalism course students at AUT.

Tuiloma Neroni Slade

Pacific Islands Forum Secretary-Genera Tuiloma Neroni Slade speaking at the opening in Auckland. Photo: Alexander Winkler / PMC