Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 31, 2002

Looking at a vast, complex region

 •  Pacific islands: sitting ducks for terrorists

By John Griffin

Part of the problem in understanding the tropical Pacific is the size and complexity of this island region, sometimes called Oceania.

Numerical estimates range up to as many as 25,000 islands of widely varying sizes and shapes, from near-continental Papua New Guinea to high volcanic places such as Hawai'i to tiny, flat atolls that coral sea animals built atop submerging mountains.

The most generous total population count is less than 9 million people (excluding Australia, New Zealand and Hawai'i), which is smaller than many cities. And 85 percent of the total island land mass, population and resources are in the racial and cultural area called Melanesia, now the Pacific's most troubled region.

Melanesia is in the southwest Pacific and south of the equator. Micronesia, the area of strongest American influence, is north of the equator.

Hawai'i is the northern corner of the Polynesian triangle, which runs down to Easter Island and across to New Zealand. It includes Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti, the Cook Islands.

With 22 island countries or separate states, regional cooperation is vital.

Eight major organizations try to coordinate. They include the Pacific Community (formerly South Pacific Commission); the University of the South Pacific, based in Fiji but serving 12 nations; plus others dealing with fisheries, tourism, the environment and seabed minerals. A dozen Pacific island nations are members of the United Nations.

Colonial influences remain. There's continuing French rule in Polynesia (Tahiti, etc.) and the southwest Pacific (New Caledonia, etc.). Australia and New Zealand are most important in their former South Pacific colonies. The United States holds sway in the North Pacific and has a southern enclave in American Samoa.

America came late into this picture of colonial partitioning in the Pacific, but we, like the French, have been most reluctant to let go.

We have ties with six island entities. Some want adjustments and more benefits, but none wants a complete break.

John Griffin is a frequent contributor and former editor of The Advertiser's editorial pages.