Papua New Guinea and Multipolarity

Fault-Line Tectonics of Multipolarity at the Periphery of the Periphery.

Q: What is the context for Papua New Guinea  to China's threat over Australian intervention in the South China Sea islands dispute , and its impact on the China-Australian bilateral relationship  (read: trade)? 

A: Multi-polarity. 

Papua New Guinea is between a rock-and-a hard-place, meaning, by circumstance, Papua New Guinea is part of the US-Australian sphere of influence (Cold War). 

But now we have the People's Republic of China, Pacific Marine Industrial Zone, String-of-Pearls (Madang Harbour) , significant investment (Madang's  Chinese Nickel Mine) and influence through out the Pacific, from the Peoples Republic of China, and we have Exxon Mobil's LNG multi billion dollar gas project in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, and Total's Gulf LNG multi-billion dollar gas project in the abjectly poor Gulf Province of Southern Region of Papua New Guinea: all Papua New Guinea's economic game-changers, and we have Obama's “Pivot-to-Asia”.

Q: How did that come about? 

A: The answer lies partly in the modern dynamic of multi polarity and, partly  deep in the 19th Century history of the South West Pacific.

As an aside, perhaps illustrating how multi polarity impacts within a, my grand-daughter attends the University of Goroka, in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, and lives in a modern first-class multi-story student dormitory, built as a present for the People of Papua New Guinea, from the People's Republic of China. There is no doubt in my mind, a fine gift to us. 

In contrast, somewhat on the other side of the fault-line, today I wear my “Kokoda Initiative” t-shirt, marking Australia's commitment to Papua New Guinea's world heritage, biodiversity conservation of its war-time memorial to the fighting 1941-42, along the Kokoda Trail [ in the nature of importance to Australian national memory, as maybe Stalingrad or Leningrad 1943-44 is to Russian memory...] The Kokoda Initiative is not just a war memorial. It is an important biodiversity innovation combining environmental protection, and sustainable livelihoods for the local customary landowners. The Australian's have been strategic in their gifting. Papua New Guineans know what strategic gift-giving is all about. It is part of the essence of their own culture.

So how do we start for the readers?

There are not too many good white-faces in the 19th Century history of the South West Pacific, but the Russian natural scientist Nicoli Miklouho-Maclay, is up there amongst the front-runners. 

He lived with the people of Papua New Guinea before colonial annexation. 

It is quite remarkable, he was not killed first-sight, because Black-birding/slavers, raiders and looters over the previous 400 years or so  made, locals defensive [see below]. Landing first in the 1870s, on what is today the regional tectonic epicentre of multi polarity geophysics, the Rai Coast Madang, Papua New Guinea 1871-2 he journeyed to “Dutch” New Guinea, and back to Rai Coast 1876-7, with an interlude in Sydney, where he set-up Australia's first Marine Biology Station, at Watson's Bay (now an inner Sydney suburb), and married the New South Wales' Governor's daughter,  raised children, and finally did a third visit to the Rai Coast in 1883 (note all before German annexation).

In 1887 he took his family back to Russia, and died of a brain-tumor in 1888. 

A year before he died, Leo Tolstoy wrote to him: 

 “ You were the first to demonstrate beyond question by your experience that man is man everywhere, that is, a kind, sociable being with whom communication can and should be established through kindness and truth, not guns and spirits. I do not know what contribution your collections and discoveries will make to the science for which you serve, but your experience of contacting the peoples will make an epoch in the science for which I serve i.e. the science which teaches how human beings should live with one another”. 

Nicoli was born in the Okulovsky District of Novgorod Oblast in 1846. As a student in St Petersburg, he was jailed for “protesting', bailed-out by Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy, banned from Russian universities, he fled on a forged passport to Heidelberg (studied humanities), Leipzig (medicine) and Jena (zoology). Post-graduate, under the influence of Ernst Haeckel, via the Canaries, Mediterranean, he shipped-out to the Pacific on the Russian Naval steam corvette Vityaz.

The Vityaz arrived in the Pacific during the latter part of the colonial South West Pacific land-grab. But it was not just land-grabbing was it? In the language of Rwanda, it was serial  “acts of genocide” without actually being genocide, either by introduced disease, or slavery, outright murder and ethnic cleansing. 

So to put him in context, not only was Nicoli a scientist, he was a passionate human rights advocate, opposing the slavery of “Blackbirding”, advocating independence, and rejecting the racism and the neo-science nonsense of cultural superiority.

The time-log of the Pacific land-grabs gives the context to all this, and is grim-reading:

Hard information is scarce on what the conquistadors did before 1499 in the South West Pacific.

The background is Spain and Portugal, shipped in first, being initially driven by the lust for gold and proselyting Christianity with all the atmosphere of the crusades, leading to the gradual domination of the Portuguese, and the middle-term diminution of Spain. The Netherlands 16th century  rebellion against Spain, marginalized the Portuguese, seeing the rise of the Dutch as Hapsburg middle-men, opportunistically first siding with Portugal, then ripping them off.

Portugal focused on spices because they could be bought five times cheaper at the place-of-origin, the islands around the bird's head of the New Guinea Island,  than in Spanish controlled Malacca, on the Malay peninsular. By 1522 Portugal ceded, or established trade-posts around the western “birds-head” of the New Guinea Island, at  Banda Island (south west of the bird's head), Ternate West of Suluwesi (1522), Tidore (1522), Amboina (west of Cerem to the south of the bird's head), and Timor (erroneously thought to have gold) . However, Spain sold the Moluccas to Portugal in 1529; “took possession” of the north coast of the New Guinea island in 1545; and the South Coast in 1606; eventually relinquishing whatever all that amounted to,  by the Treaty of Utrecht 1614. Certainly Mercator's World Map (1569) notes “  “New Guinea” which seems to have been called “Land of the Black People””

Although it looked like Spain lost badly on the ground to Portugal, in 1595, Phillip of Spain got Portugal itself, holus-bolus, by asserting inheritance rights. But it was short-lived, because the Dutch took a crucial trading-post at Bantam (near modern Singapore) and by 1620 the French and the British were there too. Wider in the Pacific, Spain annexed the Marshall Islands in 1528, (later the Marshalls hosted US H-bomb testing sites in the Cold War ), only to sell them to Germany in 1884. Spain annexed Guam in 1565 ( now a big US air and marines base, facing-off the USSR in the Cold War, and China, Russia and ISIS today) and ran it, the Northern Marianas,  the Caroline Islands, from the Philippines, until when, after the Spanish-US war, where the US aggressively expanded in the Caribbean and the Pacific, with the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana,  (quaere: a  19th century false-flag?),  and  the Treaty of Paris, 1898, it ceded all the Spanish Pacific Islands, to the USA.

Back in south east “New Guinea” (the thin-pointed-end juxtaposed the birds head in the north-west) , Torres, a Portuguese navigator under contract to Spain, in July 1606 sailed along the Lousiade Archipelago, past Tagula / Sudest. Prado, in an  accompanying vessel, landed on the 18th of July 1606 at Sakuri Bay, Sidiea Island, and on “San Fernando” the modern Doini Island (Google it to see the holiday resort), in the now Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea. On the 24th of August 1606, Torres landed on Mailu Island in the modern Central Province of Papua New Guinea. He slaughtered many people, and kidnapped 14 very young boys and girls, and took them to Manila. (What happened to those children?)

Thereafter, until 1946,  the history of the Pacific is the history of land-grabbing:

  • Britain grabbed “Van Dieman's Land” aka New South Wales, Australia in 1788, as a substitute gulag, after the American Revolution, and the 1813 Treaty of Paris, had closed the gulag of the Carolinas. The name “Australia” reflected Phillip III of Spain's title “Archduke of Austria”.
  • The Dutch asserted at times a tenuous hold during the 18th century, over the East Indies, but in 1828 grabbed West New Guinea, although the border down the 141st meridian of the New Guinea Island, was probably not confirmed until 1848/9, and the colony languished until the Indonesian take-over in 1962. (More of that later).
  • New Zealand was technically part of the the New South Wales colony sans gulag, it became a separate colony in 1841. 
  • Napoleon III annexed “New Caledonia” Kanaky, for France,  in 1853, and turned it into a gulag (those Paris communards, not executed, where exiled to this gulag..  
  • Britain annexed Fiji in 1874, and shipped in thousands of indentured-semi-slave Southern Indians to work the sugar cane-fields.
  • Bismark franchised-out, in 1884, a German annexation of the north coast (of what the Dutch did not have), as “German New Guinea”, to the Seehandels-Gesellschaft, a jumped-up real-estate venture, that failed after a few years, and had its franchise revoked. 
  • In response, Britain put a “protectorate” over the southern coast “British New Guinea” the same year.
  • Britain established a “protectorate” over the Solomon Islands in 1893,  to the benefit of Britain's  Lever Bros Ltd, soap manufacturers (coconut oil a raw material for soap).
  • Samoa was carved-up in 1900,  after American and British warships shelled Apia in 1899. Then Samoa was split between Germany and the United States. For pulling out, the British effectively got Tonga from any putative German claim, plus all of the Solomon Islands south of Bougainville to add to the protectorate of 1893, and  some land swaps in West Africa. 
  • In 1901 Australia gained “dominion” status and foreign affairs powers from Britain. 
  • Britain passed to Australia,  “British New Guinea” in 1905, and Australia re-branded it to the “Territory of Papua” as part of Australia, but with Papuans not having a right to enter the mainland, and in the fine-print, getting access to minerals. 
  • Next year 1906, Australia expelled all the South Pacific Islanders (Melanesian and Polynesian) Blackbirded labourers in Queensland, it could find. Some where deported to where they had never come from, others evaded deportation, “passed” as Aborigines, or secluded themselves until the racist hoo-ha had died-down. Mal Meniga, whose Blackbirded ancestors came from Gela Island, between Guadalcanal and Malaita Islands in the Solomon Islands, in the 1990s became captain of an invincible Australian national rugby league team.
  • Also in 1906, France and Britain established a “condominium” over the “New Hebrides” aka Vanuatu. 
  • Australia expelled Germany from “German New Guinea” in 1914, World War 1, and took possession of the lands.
  • In 1919, the League of Nations (Woodrow Wilson et al)  apportioned  former German (and Turkish) colonies and territories to the victors of World War 1. Australia got a mandate over the “Territory of New Guinea” with no indigenous New Guinea rights of entry to Australia, and Australian access to mineral rights, in the same carve-up that rubber-stamped Sykes-Picot (France- British secret treaty, released by Trotsky),  and gave the British, Palestine, (the “Balfour Agreement” had promised it to the Zionists, at the same time that T.E Lawrence had promised the Saudi princes self -determination), and Iraq (previously administered by Constantinople as separate vilyats for the northern Kurds, Bahgdad Sunnis, and Basra-Shias). 

Syria and Lebanon were given to France, bits of Turkey, to France and Greece; the now Namibia, previously German South West Africa, was apportioned to South Africa; Tanzania passed to Britain, and parts of West Africa to France... by default the fiercely and superficially “anti-colonial” USA got access to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. Japan got parts of Micronesia in the north Pacific.

In 1941, after being cut-off from East Indies oil for its navy by trade sanctions, because of its war in China and Manchuria,  Japan occupied or controlled much of south east Asia, parts of the Pacific Islands including some of the Solomon Islands, coastal New Guinea and Dutch New Guinea. In effect, between 1941 and 1945, the Japanese military broke the back of European colonialism in Asia Pacific, and the 1945 defeat of Japan,  saw the rise of self-determination movements in Asia. The Japanese war particularly in China and Korea left a negative legacy still remembered.

In 1946 Australia and the UN General Assembly signed the Trusteeship Agreement over New Guinea, and in 1960 the General Assembly passed  UN Resolution 1514 the Declaration on granting independence to colonial countries and peoples, and thereafter the establishment of the UN Committee on de-colonisation. By 1980 all Pacific countries had gained Independence, saving New Caledonia and the controversial Indonesian control over the former Netherlands Dutch New Guinea.

(To be continued. De-colonisation; the Cold War, multi-polarity and the nature of politics in the Pacific Islands)