While the leaders of the Melanesian Spearhead Group prepare for their annual summit in New Caledonia starting on Wednesday, it appears the key issue on the agenda has been pushed aside.
The meeting will be attended by the leaders of Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and the New Caledonia's pro-independence group, the FLNKS, while Papua New Guinea is sending a cabinet minister in place of Peter O'Neill.
The countries foreign ministers have already met, on Lifou, and as Johnny Blades told Don Wiseman, it looks like bad news for the West Papuans pushing to join the Melanesian club.
JOHNNY BLADES: What's come out of that is that the MSG is going to probably defer the decision on the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation formal bid for membership in the MSG and they're going to, in the meantime, try to find out more about the West Papua situation by sending a mission to Jakarta and the Papuan provincial capital Jayapura later this year to, quote, discuss West Papua with the Indonesians. Ratu Inoke Kubuabola of Fiji has more or less conveyed that at the conclusion of the MSG Foreign Ministers Meeting.
DON WISEMAN: It's the result of an offer made by Indonesia to Frank Bainimarama a couple of weeks ago, I understand. It would seem clearly an effort by Jakarta to undercut the Papuans.
JB: That seems to be part of it. There's no question Indonesia has been lobbying intensely behind the scenes to counter the West Papuan bid for membership. And, of course, remember that PNG's prime minister Peter O'Neill is in Indonesia at the moment on a state visit. He's been having discussions with the Indonesian president and he's not going to be coming to this MSG Leaders Summit. And I think that's also part of it - a couple of key players within the MSG are not entirely comfortable with giving the West Papuans membership at this stage it seems. But, of course, it will all come down to the leader's decision which is due later in the week, of course, after the West Papuans address the plenary session. But I think that the outcome of this foreign minister's meeting with the announcement of this mission to West Papua is an indication of which way that decision will go.
DW: And the West Papuans, I presume there's a reasonable contingent of them in Noumea, they'll be angry.
JB: I think they'll be really disappointed. They flew in last night and they had really high hopes for this MSG summit, that they'd finally be brought in to the Melanesian club. They'll be really disappointed. In a way, it's not all bad because there might be a bit of movement on their cause, but it's well short of what they were hoping for and I think maybe expecting.
DW: What else can we expect the leaders to be discussing when they come together from tomorrow?
JB: They're going to talk about trade, labour mobility. That's definitely a bit of a hot topic at the moment. Particularly PNG and Fiji have been discussing all sorts of skills, movement, arrangements. And I think also they're going to look at the report on the future direction of the MSG, which is being put together by an Eminent Persons Group, and I think that's a reflection of the growing cohesion of this sub-regional grouping. They're also, I believe, going to be looking at the progress of the Noumea Accord and how the FLNKS are getting on with preparing for possible independence