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The Pacific Realm accounts for a very large percentage of the Earth’s surface; it also accounts for a very small percentage of its land and population. With a total population of a little over ten million and covering only 375,000 square miles, the Pacific Realm is also limited in its political exposure, consisting overwhelmingly of chains of small islands that are geographically and culturally isolated from most of the world. It is divided into three main regions, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia, each representing a series of island chains, with Melanesia having the largest percentage of population and land mass, courtesy of its inclusion of the politically divided island of Papua New Guinea/West Guinea (or Irian Jaya, a province of Indonesia).
The political geography of the Pacific Realm – and it should be noted that the question specified “realm” as opposed to “rim” which is a much more geographically restrained description – is varied given its history of colonization and from its history during the Ice Age, when migrations were able to occur over the ice that enabled patterns of human movement that disappeared with the ice. Sixteenth through 20th Century colonization of the islands of the Pacific Realm introduced western political influences into the indigenous cultures and the political geography of the region today reflects the mixture of ancient tribal and clan relationships and more contemporary Western political philosophies.
The political geography of Micronesia reflects that archipelago’s relationship to the United States, with a constitution similar in structure to that of its much larger and more powerful patron, a relationship institutionalized by its 1986 Compact of Free Association with the U.S. Melanesia, in contrast, maintains a political culture more closely tied to its past than Micronesia, with a greater level of linguistic diversity and deeper social divisions – possibly a product of its more geographically isolated history. Melanesia’s history as a staging ground for military operations during World War II and the enduring legacy of exposure to Western political ideals has incorporated into its politics a complex stew of influences. The major division into Austronesians and Papuans obscures the much greater level of ethnic and cultural diversity that exists. Simply understanding the political geography of Fiji is difficult enough; grasping the political geography of the entirety of the region is a task of enormous proportions.
Similar to the relationship between Micronesia and the United States, Polynesia’s relationship to its colonial patron France has strongly influenced the politics of that island chain, although the underlying tribal and ethnic divisions sometimes explode into open violence more reflective of the ancient past than of the more contemporary milieu. France maintains the role of colonial overlord over Polynesia, but geographic proximity adversely affects its ability to influence events there, except in times of particularly visible political turbulence. Whereas Polynesia retains a political system heavily influenced by France’s post-French Revolution principles, those internal divisions occasionally threaten its status as a parliamentary democracy. The ongoing movement for political autonomy from France, if ultimately successful, could witness a fundamental political transformation in Polynesia away from the democratic principles imposed from afar.
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