Navigating the Tides of Geopolitical Rivalries: Challenging Times for Pacific Islands  – Australian Institute of International Affairs

Navigating the Tides of Geopolitical Rivalries: Challenging Times for Pacific Islands  – Australian Institute of International Affairs

Geopolitical competitors within the Pacific is intensifying, and left unmanaged it may possibly compromise improvement and governance. Development companions might do far more to align with Pacific priorities, pool assets, and dial-up impression in a “race to the highest.”  

Pacific Island international locations discover themselves caught within the cross-currents of nice energy rivalry. Growing strategic jostling between China and conventional companions — Australia, New Zealand, United States, and France — within the Pacific has remodeled improvement help right into a proxy for nice energy competitors.

Some observers may see this in two-dimensions, with conventional Western donors and China vying for affect. But what’s at play is best seen as multidimensional, with Pacific island international locations’ company, and larger donor cooperation and accountability additionally within the combine. It is a dynamic scenario, with Pacific international locations navigating the tides of energy to carve out their very own improvement paths. Western powers might do extra to work collectively and assist carry engagement requirements to realize improvement targets.

Geopolitical rivalries

For a long time, international locations like Australia and the United States have been key gamers in numerous elements of the Pacific. Australia’s focus has been within the South Pacific and the US within the North Pacific. More just lately these geographic divisions have given option to a pan-Pacific focus. Previously, Western engagements, rooted in historic ties and a liberal internationalist perspective, have formed the area’s improvement panorama. But new gamers with completely different agendas and approaches are altering the sport.

Chinese funding within the area hit report highs in 2016. In 2021, China was the fifth-largest bilateral donor, nevertheless it has shifted from massive, showy investments to extra focused and smaller initiatives, largely for infrastructure (Figure 1) and assets improvement. Some precedence areas, reminiscent of local weather resilience, are largely uncared for (Figure 2). With its touted no-strings-attached support and politically prized improvement initiatives, China provides an alternative choice to the normal support fashions of the West.


The further support and curiosity from China are welcome. But geopolitical leveraging, not managed effectively, can erode governance, accountability, and regional stability. Chinese offers curry elite political favour, and the rushed Partners within the Blue Pacific mechanism has been criticised for undermining present regional establishments.

PICs navigating uneven geopolitical waters

Amid these energy performs, the PICs are usually not mere bystanders. They reveal company and strategic pondering, leveraging their place to extract most advantages from each side. By participating with a number of donors, these international locations intention to steadiness the scales, guaranteeing their improvement agendas are usually not overshadowed by the pursuits of the extra highly effective nations and, on events, harnessing monetary flows in favour of ruling elites. This balancing act – mirrored by Pacific leaders’ repeated insistence of being “good friend to all, enemy to none” – is fraught. It requires cautious navigation to take care of sovereignty and keep away from falling right into a dependency entice or changing into pawns in a bigger geopolitical recreation.

Greater cooperation and coordination amongst donors will show pivotal in enhancing Pacific improvement outcomes. Essential to that is discovering widespread floor by specializing in the wants and aspirations of the PICs, for instance embodied within the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent or National Security Strategies.

With PIC wants and aspirations in thoughts, conventional donors can enhance the dimensions and attain of support by multilateral and regional partnerships, as famous in a latest Lowy Institute report. Positive examples of the facility of cooperation are seen within the multilateral financial institution reforms aimed toward boosting native procurement and employment, elevating the requirements of mission supply, and investing extra in native technical experience. This must be achieved with out excluding the standard engagement of any participant, including to prices of improvement, and neglecting recipient session. It’s nonetheless a piece in progress.

Sustainable Development: More than simply support

Sustainable improvement help has a number of sides, together with constructing resilient economies, fostering good governance, and guaranteeing improvement initiatives align with the long-term pursuits of the PICs. Success requires a nuanced understanding of the area’s distinctive cultural, social, and environmental panorama — finest achieved by real, inclusive improvement partnerships.

Too usually donor agendas set support priorities, lacking the chance to profit from native strengths and networks. Professional networks that mix strengths of conventional companions and PICs embody the regional chiefs of police and customs businesses that fight transnational crime, and the re-invigorated Pacific Islands News Agency that’s constructing Pacific journalist functionality to analyse and inform their very own tales. Chambers of commerce even have an necessary position to play in sustaining financial improvement.

The most necessary safety problem for the Pacific, local weather change, exposes international locations to storm surges, unprecedented cyclones, droughts, and sea-level rise. The ADB estimates the area has US$2.8 billion a yr in unmet funding wants out to 2030, and not less than a further US$300 million per yr for local weather mitigation and adaptation. With these enormous wants — most unmet — donors must pool assets, and simplify and localise finance mechanisms to construct resilience. That means extra dedication to regional funds just like the Green Climate Fund and to Pacific-based initiatives such because the Pacific Resilience Facility.

Of course, greater than {dollars} are wanted. One of the vital points in Pacific improvement is the query of accountability and governance requirements. As China will increase its regional footprint, considerations come up about mission transparency, sustainability, and rival improvement norms imbedded in Chinese “world initiatives.” The Western donors, with their emphases on democratic values and human rights, supply a contrasting method. For the PICs, navigating these differing requirements is a fragile process, one which requires a cautious balancing of values, pursuits, and politics. But if the purpose is to stimulate a “race to the highest,” then a greater aligned method to the Pacific context and stronger qc are wanted by donors and regional establishments.

A Region at a Crossroads

The Pacific area stands at a crossroads, with its future improvement trajectory influenced by the actions of each regional and world powers. Pacific international locations, whereas small, have a big position to play on this unfolding narrative. By strategically leveraging their relationships with each conventional Western donors and China, they’ll steer their improvement journey in direction of a extra sustainable and affluent future.

The problem lies in guaranteeing that this improvement is sustainable and inclusive, respecting the distinctive cultures and aspirations of the Pacific peoples, whereas not falling foul of elite political energy performs. As the great-power rivalry continues, the world watches with eager curiosity, hoping that the winds of change will convey progress and stability to this distinctive, and strategically necessary, area.

The full report on which this paper is predicated is obtainable at: Geopolitics within the Pacific: Playing for benefit.

Professor Meg Keen FAIIA is the Director of the Pacific Islands Program at The Lowy Institute. She was additionally the inaugural director of the Australia Pacific Security College, senior analyst with the Office of National Intelligence and ANU senior fellow conducting analysis on pacific politics and safety.

Professor Alan Tidwell is the Director of the Center for Australian, New Zealand, and Pacific Studies at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service. His analysis focuses on Australian–American relations, the geopolitics of Oceania’s smaller states, and battle decision.

This article is printed below a Creative Commons License and could also be republished with attribution.



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