GEO-STRATEGIC COMPETITION IN THE PACIFIC ISLANDS

On May 16, 2013 the Australian Lowy Institute published a geostrategic study of interest. China’s growing engagement in the Pacific Islands has fueled a great-power competition in the region. Excerpts below:

The centre of global economic gravity has moved to the Asia-Pacific. The neglected and relatively poor Pacific end of the region is increasingly attracting the attention of outside powers.

In particular, China’s profile in the Pacific Islands has grown and has spurred a resurgence of American interest in the region.

Australia and the United States should cooperate…in areas that support Pacific Island priorities. The goal should be to…helping to minimise the negative consequences that…flow from some of China’s commercial and development activities in the Pacific Islands.

In early 2011 then United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the United States was in competition with China in the Pacific.

Let’s put aside the moral, humanitarian, do-good side of what we believe in and let’s just talk straight, realpolitik. We are in a competition with China.

The perception that China is in a geo-strategic competition with the United States for influence in the Pacific Islands region is not limited to Washington. In March 2013, two Pacific Island envoys to the United Kingdom talked of growing Chinese influence in an era of major-power competition in the Pacific Islands region. Solo Mara, the Fiji High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, said in an address on 6 March that Pacific Island countries ‘have for years been warned by metropolitan neighbours of China’s “questionable security intent” in the region’ and that China had filled a ‘vacuum’ left when the US and the UK withdrew and which Australia did not adequately fill. Winnie Kiap, the Papua New Guinea High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, said in an address on 19 March that the Pacific Islands region was ‘witnessing increased competition by major powers seeking strategic influence in the Asia-Pacific’ and that Papua New Guinea was ‘beginning to like China.’

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