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Letter from the editor Ben Bohane in the inaugural 24-page edition. Write to the editor: [email protected] 

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (August 13, 2002 -Pacific Weekly Review/Pacific Media Watch):

Welcome to the Pacific Century ... and the first issue of Pacific Weekly Review.

Some historians have declared the 19th century was "the European century" and that the 21st century promises to be "the Pacific century" - when nations of the Pacific Rim emerge as the political, economic and cultural powerhouse of the world.

While much of the world is absorbed in an open-ended "War on terror" and the Middle East, arguably the major geopolitical issue of the coming decades will be the growing competition - and confrontation - between the U.S. and China. It will, to some extent, decide whether we live in a world dominated by one nation and ideology, or a "multi-polar" world in which other regions like Europe and Asia are able to hold their ground and exert influence.

Last year U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell announced that henceforth, the U.S. military would be moving away from the defense of Europe to focus on its "Pacific Theatre." Implicit in this new strategic focus is the desire to establish a NATO-like structure for its western flank as well. U.S. officials are reluctant to say so, but much of U.S. policy is being geared around the "containment" of China as much as Muslim fundamentalism.

This has made the Pacific strategically important again, perhaps for the first time since WW2. The chess game is well under way and it turns up little stories like these from the past week: reports of more U.S. nuclear submarines and troops to be based in Guam, while Nauru's PM Rene Harris, on a trip to Hong Kong to "see his tailor," pulled a midnight switch to recognize Beijing instead of Taipei. Last month, pilots from Air Pacific were temporarily suspended from training in the U.S. when U.S. intelligence discovered that two of the Sept. 11 hijackers had spent six months in Fiji before coming to the U.S.

As regional powers, America, China, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand and the European Union all compete for influence in the region, the coming years will provide an opportunity for much progress and regional cooperation but also the potential for conflict as well.

Nothing can be taken for granted in this region any more.

As island states scattered across the region, it can sometimes feel like we're caught up in the middle of another Great Game. The heavy hand of regional powers is sometimes felt, yet at the same time Pacific leaders have shown themselves adept at playing off different players. There is also a growing realization of the need for Pacific islands to be united, to deal with issues more collectively.

Beyond politics, most Pacific islanders are facing more immediate issues: kastom land tenure, declining infrastructure and social services, high unemployment, and fast-growing populations. There is an AIDS crisis, environmental degradation and falling commodity prices for staple products like copra. One of the fundamental questions is how best can the Pacific islands compete in a globalized economy? What can it offer beyond tuna and Club Med?

The Pacific Weekly Review will be uniquely placed to offer a variety of Pacific perspectives on the issues affecting us all. It will canvass the views of Big Men and grassroots alike and aims to be a community newspaper where everyone can have a say.

Using an extensive network of correspondents based in each Pacific country, distributed to every major city and "online" every week, Pacific Weekly Review will be the pre-eminent news and analysis publication for a dynamic region.

Over the years the Pacific has been one of the most under-reported regions in the world and yet the coups and conflicts of recent years have changed dramatically the outside perception of this region as simply a happy holiday destination.

It remains that but also much more: complex and diverse cultures living in a vast chain of islands whose growing pains are offset by the warmth, hospitality and resourcefulness of its people.

What has been missing is a newspaper that is able to balance the good news of this region -- from growth in sustainable development and a vibrant arts community -- to quality reporting and analysis of the troubles afflicting it.

As a regional publication, some have asked why be based in Vanuatu?

Firstly because this is a project that began life over several shells of kava in Port Vila last year, as the [Barak] government was falling. The publishers of the Trading Post newspaper, Vanuatu's top national newspaper, were wondering like me if there might be room for a weekly newspaper for the region since the demise of Pacific Islands Monthly. Once we began to get the project under way, the feedback coming to us was that there wasn't just a market, but a need, for a robust weekly newspaper that could tackle some of the hard issues and evolve into a voice for the region.

Vanuatu had other merits too; it is peaceful and has perhaps the most sophisticated financial services base in the region. Observers have called it "the last domino" since it has managed to remain the most politically stable country left in Melanesia.

It is also something of a "Switzerland" of the Pacific given its current diversity and heritage of both French and British rule. Geographically, Vanuatu is centrally placed, at the crossroads between Melanesia and Polynesia.

Importantly, for the purposes of this newspaper, it is a small to medium sized island nation, which means our perspective will be the same as that facing the majority of islands in the region.

As an independent newspaper, Pacific Weekly Review will cover issues without fear or favor but will need support from the community at large if it is to succeed. It's your voice - so use it!

When Thomas Jefferson, one of America's founding fathers who helped write the Constitution, was asked to choose between democracy and a free press, he chose a free press. Why? Because he believed that it was impossible to have a representative democracy without a free press -- it is the building block for any free and accountable society.

Join us at Pacific Weekly Review for a ringside seat and the journey ahead ...

* Pacific Media Watch Online - check the website for archive and links: http://www.pmw.c2o.org

* Post a comment on PMW's Right of Reply: http://www.TheGuestBook.com/egbook/257949.gbook 

* Pacific Weekly: http://www.thepacificweekly.com 

PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organization comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region.

Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media, the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, and Pactok Communications, in Sydney and Port Moresby.

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Recipients should rely on their own inquiries before making decisions based on material listed in PMW. Please copy appeals to PMW and acknowledge source.

For further information, inquiries about joining the Pacific Media Watch listserve, articles for publication, and giving feedback contact Pacific Media Watch at: E-mail: [email protected] and [email protected]  Fax: (+679) 30 5779 or (+612) 9660 1804 Mail: PO Box 9, Annandale, NSW 2038, Australia or, c/o Journalism, PO Box 1168, Suva, Fiji Website: http://www.pmw.c2c.org/ 

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