FRANCIS HUALUPMOMI / China
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?