In making the offer, Pakistan's Prime Minister,
Yousaf Gilani, described China as his country's
"best friend". This is like a strategic thunderclap.
It seems to confirm longstanding fears that
China's decision to help build commercial ports
along the Indian Ocean - in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh,
Burma and Pakistan - is part of a long-term plan
for a so-called "string of pearls" naval strategy to
make Beijing a great power, not only in the Pacific
Ocean, but also the Indian.
 
Although China finances the commercial ports
as part of an aid plan, the suspicion has been
that it could one day convert them into
navy bases. Indeed,  Pakistan's offer for China
to Gwadar into a naval base suggests the
militarisation of these ports is a very live
option today, not some dim future prospect.
This would give China the capacity to attack
American shipping in the region in any future
clash.
 
In addition, the China-Pakistan partnership
suits each side nicely. Beijing seeks to
strengthen its hand against Washington,
and Pakistan against its arch rival India. But
it has another attraction for each. The US
has been recruiting India as a strategic
partner against China's rising power. Between
2002 and 2010, America and India conducted
50 joint military exercises, and Washington
agreed to supply nuclear fuel to Delhi, very
much against the wishes of Beijing.
 
As well as all this, news that the US
assassinated Osama bin Laden inside
Pakistan without consulting Islamabad has
inflamed anti-American sentiment in Pakistan.
And the fact that Pakistan was harbouring
the September 11 mastermind angered many
in the US. The US-Pakistan relationship is
now under intense new strain. Indeed there
is at least a significant probability it is not a
coincidence that Pakistan's offer to China has
come after the death of Osama bin Laden. This
is possibly the first evidence that the great
powers are rethinking their global strategy as
a consequence of Osama bin Laden's death.
 
There is little doubt also that China's growth
is the most significant development in
understanding global affairs. Certainly,
the world is now more inter-connected
and complex with a number of larger
countries seeking to assert greater influence.
But it is the Asia-Pacific region in which the
major power relationships most closely
intersect and it is here that the template
for the US-China relationship will largely
be shaped. From an Australian perspective,
these developments represent an acceleration
of the two megatrends that threaten to force
Australia into an impossible choice - between
its alliance with the US on the one hand and
its ever-intensifying economic relationship
with China on the other. Certainly, an
effective, culturally sensitive and co-ordinated
policy approach is essential if Australia is to
consolidate its standing and influence as the
Asia-Pacific century unfolds.
 
On a final note, the downgrade to America's
credit rating is a historic assault on the
superpower's prestige and a symbol
of the changing world order: That is, the
demise of the US and the rise of China. China,
of course, may not be all that happy about
getting the upper hand on the ratings front.
This is because China is the single largest
investor in US debt and is sitting on a quarter
of all foreign holdings of US treasury bonds.
And that $1.2 trillion investment just got stung
with its first ever downgrade. Certainly, if China
began to sell down its $1000 billion holding in
US treasuries, the world would really have a
problem.

These are very interesting times indeed!



*     *     *     *     *     *     *

A far as Pacific Islands Radio is concerned, I
am very pleased and proud to be able to say
that a number of exciting and significant changes
are both underway and are being planned for
implementation during the present year. The most
exciting of these is an expansion of our Playlist
to incorporate not only the music of the Pacific
Islands but also the incredible music of island
people worldwide. The Playlist has progressively
been expanded to include music from island people
worldwide and, as such, will incorporate music
from such islands as Madagascar and Mauritius
in the Indian Ocean along with the islands of
the Caribbean in the Atlantic Ocean.

Soak in the enchanting sounds of the
sun-drenched Oceania/Pacific Islands
coming to you in 64kbps FM Stereo!

In this edition of our Newsletter I would like to
spend a little time discussing the beautiful and
unique musical traditions of the Torres Strait
Islands, located between Australia and Papua
New Guinea.

The islands of the Torres Strait are occupied by
a people with a rich and diverse cultural heritage,
drawn from their Melanesian neighbours to the
north, the Australian Aboriginals to the south,
along with a touch of the cultural heritage of
the islands of the Malay archipelago. This cultural
diversity is also evident from the differing linguistic
groupings in the Torres Strait islands. The western,
northern and central groupings speak Western
language, Kalaw Lagaw Ya or dialects of this
language, belonging to the Australian language
family; while people of the eastern islands
speak Meriam Mir, an indigenous Papuan language.
Generally speaking, Australia has two indigenous
peoples - Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.

These groups share cultural traits, economic and
ceremonial dealings, and a customary system of
land-tenure law. The indigenous people of Australia
migrated here over 40,000 years ago, when Asia and
Australia were still connected by a land bridge. As
the land masses separated, the population adapted
itself to the various environmental and climatic
conditions of this continent. Aborigines were nomadic,
moving through the land in cycles, sometimes meeting
with and sharing stories with other clan-groups. The
Torres Strait Islanders were seafaring and trading
peoples and their spirituality and customs reflected
their dependence on the sea.

Although indigenous beliefs and cultural practices
vary according to region, all groups share in a
common world-view that the land and other natural
phenomena possess living souls. The collection
of stories of these powerful beings and the repository
of knowledge represented in these stories shapes
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander law, both its
history and future. The Dreaming or Dreamtime is
the English name given to the intimately connected
but distinct strands of Aboriginal belief; they refer
not to historical past but a fusion of identity and
spiritual connection with the timeless present. A
similar concept with other names stands at the heart
of Torres Strait Islander spirituality.

When the first Europeans settled in Australia in
1788 there were, perhaps, a million Aborigines in
Australia and over 200 different spoken languages.
This population was significantly and quickly
depleted through a combination of warfare, disease
and dispossession of lands. One reason for the cultural
acceptability of colonial violence was the mistaken
belief that Aborigines had no religion. The continuous
Christian missionary presence in Aboriginal communities
since 1821 has seen many Aborigines convert to

Christianity:
Indigenous communities across Australia's Top End
had contact with the Muslim Macassan traders for
many centuries before white settlement. In the 1996
Australian census, more than 7000 respondents
indicated that they followed a traditional Aboriginal
religion.

Each clan-grouping has an important religious specialist
who will initiate and foster contact with spirits and
divinities. Specific elders may also be keepers of
specific stories or rituals. Sometimes this knowledge
is segregated according to gender - there is men's
business and women's business.

Some key beliefs of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait
people are that the earth is eternal, and so are the
many ancestral figures or beings who inhabit it. 
These ancestral beings are often associated with
particular animals, for example, Kangaroo-men,
Emu-men or Bowerbird-women. As they journeyed
across the face of the Earth, these powerful
beings created human, plant and animal life; and
they left traces of their journeys in the natural
features of the land.

The spiritual powers of the Dreaming are accessed by
ritual ceremonies which invoke these mythic and living
beings. These ceremonies involve special sacred sites,
song cycles accompanied by dance and body painting,
and even sports. In addition, at important stages of
men and women's lives, ceremonies are held to seek
the assistance of spiritual beings. This makes them
direct participants in the continuing process of the
Dreaming.

Music has formed an integral part of the social,
cultural and ceremonial observances of Torres Strait
Island peoples, down through the millennia of their
individual and collective histories to the present
day.

The traditional forms include many aspects of
performance and musical instrumentation unique to
particular regions and there are equally elements of
musical tradition which are common or widespread
through much of the Australian continent, and even
beyond. The culture of the Torres Strait Islanders is
related to that of adjacent parts of New Guinea and
so their music is also related. In addition, the death
wail is a mourning lament generally performed in
ritual fashion soon after the death of a member of a
family or tribe. Examples of death wails have been
found in numerous societies, but the practice is most
commonly associated with the peoples in central and
northern Australia as well as among the Torres Strait
Islanders.

The musical artistic expression of the indigenous
peoples in Australia is commonly connected to
notions of place. Consequently, it is also linked to
musical artistic expressions of longing and belonging;
two affective emotions readily expressed through
music and lyrics. Because over two-thirds of Australia's
approximately 29,000 Torres Strait Islanders have
migrated to the mainland since the Second World War,
artistic expressions such as music (and dance) are
used regularly to establish and nourish connections to
the Torres Strait. This kind of arguably fictive yet
deeply-felt affective connection is especially crucial
to diasporic populations, regardless of whether their
migration was forced or voluntary. Music is a very
mobile and potentially powerful form of cultural
baggage and it was readily carried from the Torres
Strait.

Indeed, wherever Torres Strait Islanders now live,
it retains a high level of symbolic importance.
It is one way to not only remain connected to home
islands but also to differentiate Torres Strait
Islanders as a group from the diverse cultural groups
(both Indigenous and non-Indigenous) that now live
together on the mainland.

Maritime songs provide many insights into how some
Torres Strait Islanders used, and still use music
to connect themselves with their actual places of
physical origin, their equally important symbolic
places of cultural origin, or the industries (beche-de-mer,
pearling, trochus and crayfishing) and boats (smaller
schooners and luggers such as the 'Grafton' and