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How to make PNG a regional middle power by 2050


THIS ARTICLE PROVIDES a simple strategic calculus for the new Papua New Guinea government as a roadmap to navigate or manoeuvre PNG through the uncertain environment of the early 21st century.

It argues that PNG should translate its latent power into national state power by 2050 and the key questions it frames are: What is the current status of PNG given its rich resources? How do we see PNG in future? And how can PNG translate its rich resources into national power?

National state power is a projection of state power expressed in terms of hard (military) and soft (economic) power. A country with national power is one that is strategically located with sufficient economic resources fully guarded by a strong military that is able to influence others in the international system to get what it wants.

As far as national power is concerned, PNG has some of these attributes to project as a middle power but is impaired by external influences and governance issues.

Since independence there has been no concerted effort to conceptualise this strategic thinking, and few people have articulated this.

PNG in a geopolitical sense is very strategic as is cogently expressed in the dictum ‘an island of gold floating on oil and powered by gas’.

Modernization and industrialization driven by complex web of interdependence and globalization is the flag of the 21st century which PNG must embrace by developing new thinking to rationally position itself in the world order.

PNG is not an island on its own – it is internationally connected. What happens in other parts of the world affects us. For instance, US foreign policies in the western Pacific will affect PNG’s foreign policy and strategic interaction in the region.

Our government should balance investment in economic growth and social development, with military power.

A grand strategy suggests achieving middle power status in the region by 2050. The strategy needs to identify and develop four key areas: human capital; economic independence and economic growth; social development; and international relations and security.

The tactic is to develop in each area through political will and support. The logic is simple: national state power is a function of economic power.

Economy and national power play a co-functioning role where wealth is created from economy through the protection of a strong military. A new garden without a fence is highly vulnerable to wild animals. Economic and social development is guaranteed through national state power.

First, the role of human capital is to translate ideas into wealth. PNG has an untapped smart population that needs economizing. The general education, technical and higher education, research science and technology sector have been given inadequate emphasis.

In an increasingly knowledge-based economy driven by science and technological innovation, ideas matter most. Ideas and knowledge can be translated into wealth which can be invested in economic, social and strategic (military) dimensions of power.

In essence, there is a mismatch between demand and supply of human resources or human capital deficit in PNG right now. PNG lacks human capital in specialized fields in different areas of projecting national power.

The LNG project, for instance, exemplifies this political economic scenario. Investing in these areas to patch-up the mismatch is necessary at this stage. PNG needs smart thinkers and implementers who can translate ideas into wealth.

Moreover, a review of the current general education and higher education is necessary. The current curriculum in general education may need to be reviewed to meet changing global and local context.

The higher education and technical institutions should be reviewed and given more modern primacy in areas of cutting-edge research to meet international competitiveness consistent with international quality assurance standards. Modern technological capacity and capability, and research culture and entrepreneurial culture should be promoted.

Second, PNG should pursue economic independence and economic growth policies. Economic independence should focus on strategic investments that will boost economic growth, sustainability and self-sufficiency.

Since independence the national economy is best characterized as more dependent. Extractive industries have been too dependent on western capitalist development policies. Policies and strategic plans have been developed and implemented yet less tangible output and outcomes are witnessed.

Given the abundance of rich resources management is a bigger problem and challenge. Modern economic infrastructures such as effective and efficient communication and transportation systems which are the lifeblood of economic growth have been neglected despite many attempts of investment. The agricultural frontier has not been efficiently economized given the weak infrastructures.

Moreso, the international mode of capitalism has hindered economic independence. The external dynamics of power politics under the western-led liberal capitalist order, has constructed a dynamic complex web of exploitative organizing principle where developing countries such as PNG will continue to depend on developed countries. Domestic politics and economics are influenced by this structure resulting in a huge gap between rich and poor.

The new government should consider investing in strategic areas of economic growth such as infrastructures and key economic zones, promote self-help business system, avoid external political influences on economic policies and maintain sound economic governance (macro economic policy and financial management).

What is needed is a hybrid pragmatic and incremental economic reform policy premised on PNG’s own characteristics – it is simply a combination of western economic ideologies and PNG’s own ideologies on how it should integrate itself in the western capitalist order to become a winner. Economic power is the key to national state power.

The third pillar focuses on social development frontier. The social status of PNG has improved but at a slow rate. Social infrastructures such as education and health remain weak with colonial infrastructures and equipment as a result increasing social problems such as illiteracy, high mortality, criminal activities, unemployment only to name a few.

The increasing demand of social welfare and safety net of the minorities, urbanization and global warming has become a challenge as PNG transit through modern era.

Investment in social dimension should concentrate on building a healthy rural and urban populace with affordable, efficient and effective social service mechanisms that can be able to support and maintain national power. A healthy society and population is the key to state power.

Lastly, as far as international relations and security is concerned PNG’s co-existence and sustainability as a sovereign state in the international system is fundamental. How it organizes and projects its image towards others (state and non-state actors) is important.

The world is turbulent, unpredictable and competitive where there is no level playing field. Given PNG’s growing economic power in the region and global economy how can it rationally position itself?

PNG’s geo-strategic significance in the region driven by energy and other resources international relations and security will become an important source of power. First, it should combine both hard (military) and soft power (economic and power).

The former dimension refers to building of modern defence force with the function to protect sovereignty, people and economic wealth, and participate in civic and international obligations. 

Internal threats such as LNG disruption and external threats from transnational crimes such as piratism, terrorism and Indonesia’s border incursion are increasing due to our weak defensive system.

Since PNG is now participating in international peacekeeping operations under UN flag it would be more rational to modernize military power. The defence modernization should be capable of monitoring maritime, air and land territorial spaces to guarantee security and survival.

Recently, cultural diplomacy has been included as an important foreign policy tool. PNG has huge untapped culture that it can project internationally to attract and persuade others to win their hearts and minds.

Investment in culture in the areas of arts and crafts, language, film and music industries, brand names, and international student exchange are ways that can demonstrate its power in the region. China’s promotion of its culture and history internationally to dispute ‘China threat theory’ is a good lesson for PNG.

Should these strategic policies be implemented, we expect PNG to be a smart assertive and prosperous middle power in the region by 2050. Although it may be an expensive and ambitious exercise, pragmatic and incremental approach needs to be taken at some stage. If Japan can do it, why not PNG?

The author is a geopolitical strategist and analyst: [email protected] or [email protected]


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Samuel Bariasi

A rich person's security can be guaranteed, the same applies to a wealthy nation in which the economy is prospering and the citizens are enjoying economic prosperity.

Our state sovereignty is undermined when we allow foreigners to enter our country and develop our resources when we ourselves cannot because we do not have the human resources.

We can talk about security in terms of armoury and weapons but what about foreigners coming in and taking our jobs while locals are ignored; I consider that a basic security breach.

Knowledge is power. If we can educate our citizens well and provide better living and working conditions for our people then I do not see a problem in stepping up our security.

The security needs of a store cleaner are not high compared to the CEO of Telikom.

This century's security issues require high tech equipment which costs a lot of money.

If I was in power, I would rather spend money to create jobs for the jobless who are filling up space in their relatives' homes in towns, provide further education opportunities for young men who steal from our sisters and mothers, and protect young women who sell themselves to careless rich guys.

We need people who are more educated and more useful and valuable.

Phil Fitzpatrick

So tell us more about Dr Clement Waine Bernard.

Francis Hualupmomi

Thanks Bernard. I wish I could be in such position to influence change. I provide strategic directions where it can be pushed through at political level - the new government. Good critique from everyone.

Harry Topham

Phil, I agree Sometimes you have to be careful of the front guard making a charge and scoring a slam dunk.

Good intentions and off the cuff charges sometimes can go awry as the poor young Rugby playing Welshman found to his dismay, when initiating a kick and chase found that unfortunately the ball landed off centre that pushed it over the sidelines.

If fortune had smiled more sweetly he would have easily been able to picked it up and would have been away for a well deserved try.

Using one initiative some times pays off but in some cases can lead to disaster?

Bernard Yegiora

Phil, very interesting comments. This is my understanding of what you and Paul are saying. Being idealistic is good but you can not depend on others to pick up your ideas and use it.

One has to put oneself in a position of authority so that one can put his or her ideas into action.

"The ball is in their court", this statement made by Francis could be interpreted in Pidgin as, "Mi tok tasol ol wokim or nogat em stap lo han blo ol". No wonder you made that last comment about all talk and no action, Phil.

There are many PNG elites who are in the category you are talking about, but the wind of change is blowing.

Elites like Dr Clement Waine is one such Papua New Guinean who wrote a book about Geopolitical realignment published in the USA. He is contesting the Simbu regional seat with the intention of inspiring change at the highest level.

Hope he wins.

Thank you Phil and Paul for the challenge. As the next generation of leaders we have to make sure that we play a fundamental part in influencing change in our country.

To begin that process the path of writing is the path we will walk on.

Francis, continue to write but not with the intention of writing for others to use the information you share. Not many leaders are open to such views because their reasons for going into politics are not centered on changing the nation.

However, write with the intention of improving your knowledge of PNG and where we are going in order to prepare yourself for the future leadership role that you will be playing.

I know when Francis returns, we will all sit together with Patrick and others to share our different point of views and ways of thinking.

Phil Fitzpatrick

Okay, so now we know where you're coming from.

I guess it's a neat summary.

Some might raise the spectre of all talk and no action - a charge often levelled at the elite in PNG.

If the ball is in their court they obviously haven't noticed it. Too busy buying their way back to the honey pot.

Poor old PNG, so much potential and no hope of realising it.

I guess when you're old and grey you can say, 'I told you so'. Not much consolation there I'm afraid.

Francis Hualupmomi

Peter I agree with you. I did not mention specifically China, however I did make specific reference to use of soft power in terms of cultural diplomacy, it did use currently.

There are several elements that characterize middle power. I argue that we can adopt each from different countries where it is suitable within our context.

Francis Hualupmomi

Phil if you read my article you would find that I only intend to provide strategic directions through writing. The ball is in their court.

Phil Fitzpatrick

I don't think there is anything new being said in this article. There is nothing 'Chinese' about it. It is just being stated in a more academically eloquent way.

Quite a few PNG Attitude writers have made the same points, notably Martyn Namorong. Martyn also rails against the 'exploitative organizing principle where .... PNG will continue to depend on developed countries' for instance.

Other writers have also made the point that PNG has the wherewithal in terms of resources to do very well economically. People like Reg Renagi have highlighted the need to fix the garden fence. Others have pointed out the need for PNG to develop its human capital in terms of education.

I totally agree that PNG has the capacity to become a middling regional power, maybe even before 2050. I don't think there is any dispute about these things. What seems to be lacking, as Paul Oates has pointed out recently, is the willpower needed to accomplish these things.

I would be very interested in your view on this aspect Francis.

How do you re-direct the greed and avarice of the average corrupt PNG politician into this sort of positive mindset so that the smart people can get on with the job of making what you envision a reality?

Francis Hualupmomi

Patrick - PNG is our country and we will continue to influence government though writing. We will decide what is best for us. We will discuss more when I return.

Barbara and others - I respect your comments. If you have problem with China you can talk to them may be in a round table diplomacy.

I'm not a Chinese, I will remain a true Papua New Guinean. The way I think is quite different from others. I expect positive comments not negative comments tying me down to Chinese influence.

Mrs Barbara Short

I can see the Chinese are also teaching you well, Peter.

Francis says .."LNG disruption..is due to our weak defensive system"

If the economy is the "basic condition for national survival" and it depends on this LNG project being developed in an "uncontrolled area" with many fears for "security", do the Chinese teachers say that this "insecurity", which has the ability to spoil the economy, allows the government to bring in the military to secure the area for the developers?

The fact that PNG has been found to be so rich in minerals and oil and gas is probably going to create many huge problems like this in PNG over the coming years.

The developers from China and the USA and other countries will have their own priorities. Economic policies and strategic policies and military policies will come under great pressure.

How can the military show they "have a heart" for the people who have traditionally owned the land on which the LNG project will be built?

The NSW Government is bringing in ways that the local farm land-holders can be more involved in the process of granting exploration rights to coal-seam gas exploration in NSW.

It has a lot to do with checking that the aquifers are not spoilt by the processes they are using to look for the gas as it could have grave effects on future farming.

The future PNG government will have to work hard at ways of helping these people who live in the areas affected by the LNG development. We certainly don't want a repeat of what happened on Bougainville.

As a person who could possibly have some influence in the future on the Defence Force in PNG I was wondering if you had any good ideas.

Patrick Kaiku

Francis; this is a very well written piece and the stated goals of being a middle-power is achievable.

I would like to see PNG increasingly engage its Melanesian Spearhead Group members for additional leverage. These are not wild theories and nebulous ideas.

A new generation of Papua New Guinean leadership, informed by decades of lost opportunities is a credible motivation.

There are others in the region who would want a debilitated and dependent PNG. But as I have suggested to you on numerous occasions, Francis, the next government that comes in after the 2012 Election should institute forthwith a review of our existing bilateral relations and foreign policy.

Curtailing the role of foreign aid and working to promote trade as a substitute to aid should be a national priority.

Economic independence through trade and seeking comparative advantage in our external relations with other states in the international system have never been a priority of successive governments since Independence.

Your ideas are welcomed and the formation of an advocacy group to get the "new" government interested in this project is in order. See you when you get back in country!

Francis Hualupmomi

I appreciate all your comments. But this is my theory. I respect your opinion.

Paul Oates

Francis, your nebulous ideas and concepts need to be grounded in reality. The majority of your country still lives in a rural setting with very little in the way of material goods or the hope of attaining them. Your country's system or providing for her people urgently needs a clean out and new direction.

As Barbara suggests, the real test of your theories will be when you return to your own country and reality. What you then do to improve the lives and aspirations of your countrymen and women will be proof of the taro pudding and demonstrate the value and purpose of your current training.

Good Luck and best wishes mate. I mean it. Many have tried and failed. What will your practical and proven way be to succeed?

Peter Aimos

A healthy economy is the required condition for ensuring national security. Poverty and weakness of the national economy are the biggest security threats, which are directly related to the rise and decline of a country and life and death of a nation. Without economic support, national defense development and buildup are like water without resource and a tree without roots.

Economy is the basic condition for national survival. It is the guarantee condition for social stability, social progress, national strength, national security, international influence and human security.
However, a healthy economy does require guaranteed security. Military (hard power) is that guarantor.

Strength is different from capability in that being strong does not mean having the capability; capability is the application of strength, reflecting the government’s will and art of using strength.

Each and every country will define their respective national interests and the appropriate elements of national power (ie; military, industry, demography, politics, diplomacy, economy, etc) to secure those interests depending on its prevailing and foreseeable national conditions.

If a perceived threat to a nation is considered to be of military nature, then no doubt the military element of national power would be ticked off as a certainty. The prioritizing of the military and economy would then be viewed simultaneously because one would depend on the other.

And, yes Francis, I do agree that our government (past & present) have accorded little attention to the capability and capacity building of the PNGDF in view of our increasing population, growing economy and the diversified nature of threats PNG is faced with and likely to face in future.

There are lessons we could take from China, however, as my former teacher Barbara suggested, perhaps we should look at other smaller countries as well to see how they have managed their situations which could be more applicable and appropriate for our adoption. Botswana would be one such country I would propose.

Whether it’s the application of hard power (military), soft power (diplomacy) or smart Power (recently instituted by Hillary Clinton), it should be the security, survival and prosperity of a state and its subjects that should remain the ultimate end state for any government.

Mrs Barbara Short

Thanks for explaining to us readers what the Chinese are trying to teach you.

It sounds very similar to what I taught my students at Keravat National High School back in the 1970s-80s. Except we didn't include the anti-capitalist lines e.g. the international mode of capitalism has hindered economic independence. I taught Tanzanian socialism!

So much of what you have mentioned "should happen" did actually happen "back then" e.g. I had some of my ex-students taking PNG culture around the world.

Also, the Chinese seem to be keen on having a big army. I'd worry about a "military Take-over".

I'm sure today, the Chinese are slowly changing many of their views on politics and their form of government is probably evolving into something that can cope with their huge population.

But PNG is at the other extreme...a very small developing country. Surely it should be looking at other small developing countries which are succeeding.

The mind boggles comparing PNG to China or even Japan!
Look at the other similar countries in the region e.g. Fiji. Learn from their mistakes.

I could write for hours on this topic. You have been well taught and write well. Now you have to go back to PNG and get on with all the educated PNG men and women who have slaved away for many years trying to get the country running as well as possible under the corrupt politicians which the people have sadly elected.

Let's hope that we get some better results this election. PNG Attitude writers are trying to work out ways of getting a better run parliament. I don't think the Chinese can help you there. But former kiaps and people who understand PNG culture just may be able to help.

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