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Australia, China, Diplomacy, Indonesia, Japan, Taiwan

Diplomacy in the Pacific, balancing old relationships and new

The Pacific islands’ traditional partners can take nothing for granted any more, suggests a discussion paper released by the Pacific Institute of Public Policy this month.

“Decisions of allegiance by island leaders will be based on the cultivation of personal relationships (not ideology), access to new technology, migration pathways for our people and sharing culture,”says the PIPP in the paper ‘Patriot Games: Island voices in a sea of contest.’

It suggests the Pacific is strategic again for the first time since World War Two, and that at least nine significant powers are jockeying for influence and position; Australia, the US, China, Russia, Indonesia, India, Taiwan, Japan and the EU.

The PIFF says while some island leaders see the worth in remaining aligned to traditional partners such as the US, Australia and France; the US faces many ‘unresolved issues’ in the region, while “Australia seems to have no policy for its immediate neighbourhood-Melanesia.”

“Indonesia is increasingly filling the diplomatic and military gap across the Melanesian sub-region,” the paper claims, while China is making concerted efforts in places like Tonga, Samoa and Niue.

But it suggests this competition is potentially more a source of opportunity than tension.

“Perhaps a basket of competing partners might prove more peaceful than an entrenched rivalry between two, offering a strategic equilibrium, a balance of power achieved where nations compete for influence via business and ideas rather than force and territorial claims. No doubt the new players will jockey for more position while the older ones try to maintain their spheres, but Pacific nations hope there is give and take and we can ultimately  trade with any and all. Many already cultivate a Pacific version of ‘strategic ambiguity’ to keep our options open.”

“Pacific governments will continue to play off the great powers and open avenues of new opportunity. However island leaders would also do well to consider more deeply the consequences of an intensifying geopolitical struggle and to better communicate our long-term interests both at  home and abroad.”

For the full discussion paper visit the Pacific Institute of Public Policy website.


About Samantha Magick

Journalist and editor


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