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For nearly a year the Department of Pacific Affairs’ (DPA) Dr Graeme Smith has been collaborating with the University of Hawaii’s Professor Terrence Wesley-Smith on a new book looking at the influence of China in the Pacific region.
The book will be a collection of 15 to 20 chapters with contributions from academics from a number of countries – Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Australia, China, the United States and New Zealand – with different areas of expertise.
In early February 2019 the University of the South Pacific hosted the contributors, allowing for a series of writers’ workshops, as well as a public symposium, where academics were able to present their work to the public.
“This is not the first such volume, in 2010 Terrence edited a compilation entitled ‘China in Oceania - Reshaping the Pacific? ‘,” says Dr Smith. “However, the Chinese regime has shifted substantially under Xi Jinping. Xi Jinping’s government presents a much more assertive China in the region than the previous Chinese regime and given recent media interest, the subject seemed desperately in need of reviewing”.
As well as drawing leading academics from across the Pacific, the symposium was honoured with keynote speeches by Vanuatu Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu and Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Dame Meg Taylor. Both speakers emphasised the necessity of shifting the discourse from one that frames Pacific Island countries as passive pawns or victims of new forms of colonisation, to a discourse that puts Pacific Island countries as actors with leverage and agency.
The publication will bring the issue of China in the Pacific ‘up to date’; in addition to asking “what’s new?” and “what has changed?”, it will include chapters which raise issues that have never been, or hardly been touched on. As an example, one of the contributions talks about how Taiwan tries to leverage its identity as an ‘Austronesian’ country, to encourage its remaining six allies in the Pacific to stay loyal.
Tentatively entitled ‘The China Alternative – Changing Regional Order in the Pacific Islands’, the book is due out by the end of the year.