New Commonwealth era begins
Leaders from the 53 Commonwealth nations have agreed that Prince Charles should succeed The Queen as the symbolic head of the Commonwealth, at a summit that marked the start of a new era for the organisation.
The decision, reached by “strong consensus” during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, followed a personal appeal made by the Queen who addressed leaders at the opening of the meeting at Buckingham Palace.
The Queen said it was her “sincere wish” that her son should continue the work that her father, King George VI began in 1949.
The Prince of Wales said he was “deeply touched and honoured” by the decision to succeed the Queen “in due course”. However, the position remains non-hereditary meaning Prince William will not automatically inherit the role from his father.
While maintaining a British monarch as the head of the Commonwealth may appear to be a sign of continuity, in important ways this CHOGM marked a departure from the organisation’s link with its colonial past.
Next CHOGM host has no British colonial links
In landmark decision, leaders agreed that the next CHOGM will be held in 2020 in Rwanda, the first host with no colonial links to Britain. With Malaysia stepping aside, the opportunity arose for Rwanda, the newest member of the club, to step forward as host, a decision backed by all but two of the 52 leaders attending the summit.
Emerging power steps up
In a notable sign of change India, the organisation’s largest member state, assumed a more prominent role. Being an influential member of the Commonwealth is part of India’s strategy to become a more visible player on the global stage in response to the rise of its regional rival China, which is not a member state.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended, the first Indian premier to attend a Commonwealth summit since 2009, during which he pledged funds focused on assisting the organisation’s 31 small states. India announced the doubling of its contribution to the Commonwealth fund for technical cooperation to $2 million; raised $2.5 of $5 million for the trade financing facility for small states; and doubled the country’s contribution to the Commonwealth Offices of Small States at the UN and Geneva. India also aims to help build the capacity of the coastal nations through training programmes at the National Institute of Oceanography in Goa.
The focus on small states is important to India as these can secure crucial votes in multilateral fora.
Trade and Brexit
There were bold ambitions outlined at CHOGM to increase intra-Commonwealth trade to US$2 trillion by 2030 through trade liberalisation and the ‘Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda’. The intra-Commonwealth trade and investment agenda has been pushed by Britain which will be leaving the EU and is seeking to expand trade and investment in new markets.
CHOGM summits are often accused of being long on pledges and short on action. This meeting saw key announcements on climate change, cyber security, education and disease prevention that were backed with funding.
The ‘Blue Charter’ was signed, committing countries to protect oceans from the effects of climate change, with specific countries taking on responsibilities such as protecting coral reefs, eradicating ocean plastics and restoring mangroves. The UK has committed £61 million to assisting Vanuatu tackle plastic waste and since CHOGM Australia has committed 500 million Australian Dollars to protecting the Great Barrier Reef.
There was also a declaration on cyber security, with the UK pledging £15 million to assist capacity building in Commonwealth countries.
The UK also pledged £212 million to assist a million girls in developing countries in the Commonwealth to go to school for longer.
In the communique, leaders vowed to halve malaria rates in Commonwealth countries by 2023.
Leaders also committed to “Commonwealth renewal” so that the organisation is able to address the challenges of the 21st century. The thorny issue of funding and the governance arrangements of the Commonwealth Secretariat will be addressed in a report to be submitted a month before the Commonwealth Foreign Affairs Ministers’ Meeting in New York in September 2018.