Biden presidency likely to be boost for climate change, West Papua issues

Indonesian military carving through the rainforest for the Trans-Papua Highway ... Biden’s victory will make West Papua human rights issues more prominent. Image: Greenpeace

By Laurens Ikinia in Auckland

US President-elect Joe Biden’s pledge to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement is “fresh air” news for Pacific Islands countries, say some commentators.

The US formally left the Paris pact a day after the US elections last week – a year after the Trump administration gave notice it was quitting.

However, the same day Biden promised that his incoming administration would restore US commitment to the agreement.

The UN agency that oversees the agreement expressed regret over the Trump administration action, saying: “There is no greater responsibility than protecting our planet and people from the threat of climate change.”

Biden posted a tweet saying that the US would restore membership in “exactly 77 days”.

Biden’s victory will also help make the issue of human rights violations in West Papua more prominent.

This is because Biden and the Democratic Party have greater concerns about raising human rights issues, says international relations academic Dr Teuku Rezasyah of Padjajaran University.

Human rights pressure
“As a democratic country, [the United States] often argues, it gets pressure from within the country to pay attention to human rights aspects in Papua,” said Dr Rezasyah.

Last week, a renewed call was made for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit West Papua by the UK government through the Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office), Nigel Adams.

“The UK supports a visit by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) to Papua,” the statement said.

“Officials from the British embassy have discussed the proposed visit with the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and continue to encourage the Indonesian Government to agree on dates as soon as possible.”

The former Minister for Asia and the Pacific, Heather Wheeler, attended the Pacific Island Forum in August 2019.

“It is our longstanding position that we regard Papua and West Papua provinces as being part of Indonesia and consider dialogue on territorial issues in Indonesia as a matter for the Indonesian people,”Adams said.

Pacific leaders have congratulated Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris for their success.

Ardern welcomes Biden
In Wellington, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it was important for New Zealand to have tight connections with the US on big global issues – including trade, covid, and climate change – and she would pursue a strong relationship with Biden.

In Fiji, Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama is reported to have become the first world leader to publicly congratulate US President-elect Joe Biden on his victory – despite there being no clear winner on Saturday morning when he did so.

RNZ Pacific reports that Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown said he admired Biden’s patience as results had trickled in and his calming comments assuring people their votes would be counted.

Brown also praised Biden’s unifying speeches, describing them as “inspirational” to the American people and many internationally.

Northern Marianas Governor Ralph Torres, a Republican and staunch supporter of Trump, said his administration hoped it could work with the incoming Biden-Harris administration for the betterment of the people of the US and the islands.

Torres recognised the historic milestone of leadership for women in the US with the election of Harris.

“We look forward to working with them and their Democratic administration, just as we did with President Obama and his administration to great success,” Torres said.

Presidency for ‘all’ Americans
NMI Democratic Party chair Nola Hix said they were confident that the Biden-Harris team would be a presidency for all Americans.

American Samoa’s Congresswoman, Aumua Amata Radewagen, a Republican, expressed the need for bipartisan work across the political spectrum.

Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister James Marape congratulated Biden yesterday and mentioned Harris, who would be the first woman and first Black and Asian-American person to serve as vice-president.

He thanked departing President Trump for his support, particularly for sending former Vice-President Mike Pence to APEC 2018 in Port Moresby, and for signing a $US2.3 billion deal with Australia, New Zealand and Japan to improve PNG access to electricity and the Internet.

“The US election was an event that captivated the world, including PNG, with our people glued to their TV screens and internet to get the latest updates,” Marape said.

In Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison congratulated Joe Biden and Kamila Harris, wishing them “every success” in office.

“The Australia-US Alliance is deep and enduring and built on shared values. I look forward to working with you closely as we face the world’s many challenges together,” he said.

However, The Guardian reports that Biden’s election would increase diplomatic pressure on Australia to step up its commitments on climate change.

Laurens Ikinia is a Papuan Masters in Communication Studies student at the Auckland University of Technology who has been studying journalism. He is on an internship with AUT’s Pacific Media Centre.

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