Thursday, April 11
Room 2067, Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies
Light Lunch will be provided
Over the past year, the United States, Australia and New Zealand have each announced frameworks for intensified engagement with the island states of the Southwest Pacific. All three are responding to what they perceive to be a concerted campaign by China to build strategic influence in the region. There are strong similarities among these frameworks: they prioritize greater political engagement and “partnership” with the Pacific Island States; seek to use development assistance to boost economic growth and governance resilience; and to counter Chinese influence-building, for example by competing on infrastructure funding. While the three allies and China are relying on past playbooks to design their own strategic moves, the Pacific Island States are significant players in this dynamic. Many have vivid memories of Second World War and Cold War competition in their region. Their adoption of the “Blue Pacific” framing for regional solidarity is an emphatic statement of agency. For many, China represents and opportunity, not a threat. Pacific leaders reject Western framings of their countries as weak in economic potential and governance. This seminar will explore the dynamics of this new strategic competition in the Southwest Pacific, and suggest there may be some unpleasant surprises in store for the Pacific’s traditional partners.
Michael Wesley is Professor of International Affairs and Dean of the College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University.