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APEC then, Pacific Forum now. Have we moved on?

APEC then, Pacific Forum now. Have we moved on?

By Henry Acland

Henry Acland is a Masters of Politics student at the University of Auckland. He also works as a Programme Assistant for the NZ Asia Institute. Earlier this year I gave a paper on East Timor for The NZ Political Studies Association Conference. A month ago I was in East Timor.


It was roughly four years ago that Auckland held APEC. Then like now there was need for law and order in at least part of one of the member countries. To put it mildly, the Indonesians were having trouble managing East Timor. During APEC the member countries, especially Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the US, put pressure on Indonesia to accept international peacekeepers. The situation is a little different today with a force already having been sent to the Solomons. This may give time then for the Forum not to deliberate about whether they should go in, but to come up with a long term solution.

The East Timor intervention although incredibly unique due to the amount of international participation, is nonetheless a failure in one essential aspect. International intervention - or regional in the Solomons case - brings to the previously lawless territory a false economy. This economy will only last as long as the outside force remains. At present in East Timor there exists two economies, one for the wealthy UN employees and other foreigners and another for the poor Timorese. Both economies are pretty much separate. UN employees do not enjoy the hassle of purchasing goods from sellers on side of the street while the Timorese as a whole do not have the money to buy from the supermarket.

Last year there were riots in Dili. Police fired on student protestors. Two people were killed. Offices that were being used by Australians were burnt, an Australian owed Hello Mister Supermarket and the ANZ were attacked. Generally there was looting throughout Dili. About a month ago I was in East Timor. While there I went to the National University. I was elated to see that the university was housed well and placed just behind the parliament buildings. However after I talked with a lecturer, I understood how badly equipped the place was. He told me that they did not have computers. It seemed indicative of the situation. While the UN employees and other foreigners working in Dili were hooked-up with high speed internet, the locals at the National University did not even have computers.

The Solomons is a chance for the intervention force to not only stop the immediate violence but to devise a framework to iron out the social inequalities. This means a cautious approach is needed when sending more troops or foreign workers in. With each foreigner that participates in keeping the peace they are also growing a false economy. Without aid to the right sectors so that the local economy can interact with the false economy and thus creating one ‘real’ economy, the situation in the Solomons after an initial peace may turn riotous like in East Timor.

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