Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

Bougainville Referendum


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Bougainville and its location

Mains level : Chinese assertion in the Indo-Pacific region

The Autonomous Region of Bougainville, a chain of islands that lie 959 kilometres northwest of Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) capital, Port Moresby, has recently voted for its independence.

China’s interest in Bougainville

  • For the broader region, an independent Bougainville has a number of implications.
  • Firstly, it sends a strong signal for other self-determination movements across the Pacific, including in New Caledonia which will hold a second referendum for independence in 2020.
  • There are also geopolitical implications. The referendum has taken place during a period of heightened strategic anxiety among the Pacific’s so-called traditional partners — Australia, NZ and the US, as well as the UK, France and Japan.
  • There have long been concerns China will seek to curry influence with an independent Bougainville.
  • Beijing’s interest in Bougainville is two-fold: First, it is seeking to shore up diplomatic support in the Pacific Islands region, thereby reducing support for Taiwan which lost a further two Pacific allies this year.
  • And second, to access to resources, namely fisheries and extractive minerals.
  • The current strategic prism of China is about debt-trap diplomacy to undermine the importance of local dynamics and the resilience of Bougainville people.


Bougainville Referendum

  • The referendum marks an important part of a peace agreement signed almost 20 years ago.
  • The 2001 Bougainville Peace Agreement ended the deeply divisive nine year conflict (1988-1997) that lead to the deaths of approximately 20,000 people, or about 10 per cent of Bougainville’s population.
  • The referendum, however, is non-binding.
  • The ultimate outcome will be determined by a vote in Papua New Guinea’s National Parliament following negotiations between the Papua New Guinean government and the Autonomous Bougainville Government.
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments