Geopolitics and regionalism

Australia and, to an extent, New Zealand remain the default states to which most Pacific Island countries typically turn in times of natural disaster, or as security and development partners. Even so, the regional diplomatic scene is much more dynamic and challenging for Australian interests than it was a decade ago. The regional diplomatic architecture has grown increasingly more complex, with new organisations and regional and sub-regional groupings becoming more active, and with New Caledonia and French Polynesia admitted to the Pacific Islands Forum as full members. External players such as China and Indonesia are much more visible in regional affairs. Our research on geopolitics and regionalism is addressing the drivers of, and trends in, regional politics and diplomacy.

Subtopics within this program of research include:

Emerging players

Conventional wisdom has it that China’s influence in the Pacific is steadily increasing, and at Australia’s expense. It is important to question and test assumptions about growing and declining influence, and to understand these issues at a granular level. DPA researchers are continuing their research on the reality of China’s interaction with the Pacific and on Indonesia’s growing diplomatic engagement in the Pacific.

Regionalism and regional governance

DPA research is addressing the ways in which regionalism and diplomacy are evolving in the Pacific, including the proliferation of sub-regional and new regional bodies. Our research examines not only the diplomatic interests and initiatives of Pacific Island states (individually and collectively), but also the implications of relevant trends for Australian interests and policy in the region.

Cover of Mapping Security Cooperation in the Pacific Islands - Research Report

Mapping Security Cooperation in the Pacific Islands - Research Report

In the 2018 Boe Declaration on Regional Security, Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) leaders recognised that the Pacific Islands region is facing ‘an increasingly complex regional security environment driven by multifaceted...

Cover of IB 2021/09 Chinese Scholarly Interest in the Pacific

IB 2021/09 Chinese Scholarly Interest in the Pacific

This In Brief examines the level of Chinese scholarly interest in Pacific Island countries (PICs), presents the main research themes explored by Chinese scholars and describes the policy-driven nature of the research...

Cover of In Brief 2021/08 Small Island Developing States Drive a Green Post-COVID-19 Recovery Agenda

IB 2021/08 Small Island Developing States Drive a Green Post-COVID-19 Recovery Agenda

Despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the existential threat of climate change for small island developing states (SIDS) remains. This has made SIDS step up in climate meetings to promote a green post-COVID-19...

The China Alternative: Changing Regional Order in the Pacific Islands

In this collection, 17 leading scholars based in Solomon Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and China analyse key dimensions of the changing relationship between...

Cover of China’s Third White Paper on Foreign Aid — A Comparative Analysis

IB 2021/03 China’s Third White Paper on Foreign Aid — A Comparative Analysis

The long-anticipated China’s third white paper on foreign aid was released by the Chinese government on 10 January 2021 (State Council 2021). It covers Chinese aid in the period 2013–18. This In Brief compares the...

Cover of Discussion Paper 2020/04 The Role of the United Nations in New Caledonia’s Process of Self-Determination

DP 2020/04 The Role of the United Nations in New Caledonia’s Process of Self-Determination (translated from the original French version)

This Discussion Paper arises from the June 2019 PIPSA (Pacific Islands Political Studies Association) conference with the theme of ‘Democracy, Sovereignty and Self-Determination in the Pacific Islands’. Held in...

Cover of In Brief 2020/29 China’s Media Strategy in the Pacific

IB 2020/29 China’s Media Strategy in the Pacific

This paper analyses how China has both used its own media outlets and engaged with Pacific media organisations to ‘tell the China story’ in the region in recent years. It also briefly compares China’s media strategy...

Cover of In Brief 2020/26 Pacific Island Leaders’ Addresses to the 2020 UN General Assembly in the Context of Big Power Competition Part One: Shared Concerns and Implications

IB 2020/26 Pacific Island Leaders’ Addresses to the 2020 UN General Assembly in the Context of Big Power Competition Part One: Shared Concerns and Implications

As strategic competition between China and traditional powers, particularly the US, rapidly unfolds in the Indo-Pacific region, it is worth examining the response of the Pacific Island countries (PICs). This two-part...

Cover of In Brief 2020/27 Pacific Island Leaders’ Addresses to the 2020 UN General Assembly in the Context of Big Power Competition Part Two: Special Concerns and Implications

IB 2020/27 Pacific Island Leaders’ Addresses to the 2020 UN General Assembly in the Context of Big Power Competition Part Two: Special Concerns and Implications

This In Brief is the second in a two-part series on the Pacific Island leaders’ speeches delivered at the 75th session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in September 2020. While the first paper focused on...

Cover of Discussion Paper 2020/04 L’ONU au service du processus d’émancipation de la Nouvelle-Calédonie

DP 2020/04 L’ONU au service du processus d’émancipation de la Nouvelle-Calédonie

La présence de l’ONU à l’occasion de la seconde consultation d’autodétermination de la Nouvelle-Calédonie, prévue par l’Accord de Nouméa du 5 mai 1998, le 4 octobre prochain est l’occasion de revenir sur l’action de...

Cover of Working Paper 2020/4 Decolonising American Micronesia

WP 2020/04 Decolonising American Micronesia

The writing of this Working Paper was prompted by the American decision in 2019 to renegotiate the Compacts of Free Association between the United States and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States...

Cover of In Brief 2020/22 China’s Military Engagement with Pacific Island Countries

IB 2020/22 China’s Military Engagement with Pacific Island Countries

China’s fast-growing presence in the Pacific Island countries (PICs) have triggered traditional powers’ increasing concerns about China’s military ambition in the region. In April 2018, in response to media...

Cover of the manuscript 'Fishing for Success: Lessons in Pacific Regionalism'

Fishing For Success: Lessons in Pacific Regionalism

This manuscript by Dr Transform Aqorau titled ‘Fishing for Success: Lessons in Pacific Regionalism’ is a personal account, in which Dr Aqorau describes the journey of the countries belonging to the Parties of the...

in brief

IB 2020/10 China’s Coronavirus ‘COVID-19 Diplomacy’ in the Pacific

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is spreading to Pacific Island countries (PICs), posing a severe threat to their economies and human security. Donors are aiding the region. For example, the United States has...

in brief

IB 2020/04 American Strategic Considerations Drive Compact Negotiations in Micronesia: Part 1

In a flurry of activity over the last nine months, the United States has rediscovered the strategic value of the freely associated states in Micronesia. This In Brief is in two parts: in the first Stewart Firth...

IB 2020/05 American Strategic Considerations Drive Compact Negotiations in Micronesia: Part 2

In a flurry of activity over the last nine months, the United States has rediscovered the strategic value of the freely associated states in Micronesia. This In Brief is in two parts: in the first Stewart Firth...

in brief

IB 2020/03 Assessing China’s Climate Change Aid to the Pacific

Climate change is the single greatest challenge faced by Pacific Island countries (PICs) (PIF Secretariat 2018:10). Unsurprisingly, the battle against climate change has been placed at the heart of PICs’ national...

in brief

IB 2020/02 Growing Academic Interest in the Pacific — Pacific Research Centres in China

China’s diplomatic activities in the Pacific, which include President Xi Jinping’s visit to Papua New Guinea (PNG) in November 2018 and the third China–Pacific Islands Countries (PICs) Economic Development and...

IB 2019/25 China’s Guide to Investment Cooperation in Papua New Guinea

This In Brief examines a key Chinese government document written in the lead up to the November 2018 APEC meeting in Port Moresby and published in January 2019. The 2018 Guide for Foreign Investment and Cooperation (...

in brief

IB 2019/20 Comparing China’s and Taiwan’s Aid to the Pacific

In September 2019, after 36 years, Solomon Islands severed its diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (hereafter Taiwan) and established formal relations with the People’s Republic of China (hereafter China...

in brief

IB 2019/19 The Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency: 40 Years of Successful Regional Cooperation

The fortieth anniversary of the Pacific Islands Forum’s most successful initiative went unnoticed by Forum leaders at their meeting in Tuvalu in early August. The Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) turned...

Working Paper 2019/01 How Does the ‘Pacific’ Fit into the ‘Indo-Pacific’? The Changing Geopolitics of the Pacific Islands: Workshop Report

How does the Pacific fit into the Indo-Pacific? Read a summary of the thoughts of Pacific, NZ and Australian speakers on the changing geopolitics of the region during a recent workshop at the ANU.

in brief

IB 2019/14 A New Trend: Pacific Island Language Teaching as Part of the Belt and Road Initiative

China’s push for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the Pacific is receiving growing attention. All eight Pacific Island countries (PICs) that recognise Beijing, including Cook Islands, Federated States of...

Book cover

Understanding Oceania

This book is inspired by the University of the South Pacific, the leading institution of higher education in the Pacific Islands region. Founded in 1968, USP has expanded the intellectual horizons of generations of...

IB 2019/11 The Pitfalls of Regionalism: The Participation of Pacific Island Countries in the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC)

Cooperation through regional agencies allows Pacific Island countries to negotiate collectively with distinct advantages, but is there a downside? Transform Aqorau argues that the type of support some regional...

IB 2019/10 Chinese and Taiwanese Scholarships for Pacific Island Countries

Diplomatic competition between the People’s Republic of China (hereafter ‘China’) and the Republic of China (hereafter ‘Taiwan’) has revived since 2016. The Pacific is a main battlefield as six of Taiwan’s 17...

IB 2019/09 Similar Patterns? Chinese Aid to Island Countries in the Pacific and the Caribbean

Chinese aid to Pacific Island countries (PICs) has received increasing attention from academic and policy circles in Australia in recent years. But is the Pacific unique in China’s aid program? While the region is...

IB 2019/08 The Pacific Islands Development Forum: A Shaky Future?

Fiji Prime Minister Bainimarama recently announced that he will attend this year’s Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Leaders’ Meeting in Tuvalu. This represents a shift in Fiji’s relations with the PIF: Bainimarama has...

In Brief

IB 2018/30 Chinese Evacuation Operations Part 1: A New Consideration for the Pacific

The increasing number of Chinese citizens living, working and travelling abroad as part of China’s rise has created an obligation for the People’s Republic of China to protect them. This is particularly the case in...

IB 2018/31 Chinese Evacuation Operations Part 2: A New Narrative

As China’s security posture and foreign policy become more assertive, stories about evacuation operations message these capabilities to the Chinese population and to the world. Chinese war movies in recent years have...

IB 2018/29 Chinese Concessional Loans Part 2 — Pacific Indebtedness

This In Brief is the second of a two-part series on Chinese concessional loans. The first paper discusses the nature of the loan schemes and three common misperceptions. This paper focuses on two aspects: (1) the...

In Brief

IB 2018/25 China International Import Expo: A New Opportunity for Pacific States?

This In Brief looks at the trade relationship between China and the 14 Pacific Island countries (PICs) and argues that while China’s exports to the region have grown more steadily than its imports over the past...

IB 2018/23 Chinese Concessional Loans Part 1 — Perceptions and Misperceptions

Concessional loans account for more than half of Chinese foreign aid (China State Council 2014) and are currently in the spotlight. The Trump Administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy

IB 2018/21 - The US’s Indo-Pacific Strategy: Implications for Pacific Island Countries

The Indo-Pacific strategy is the Trump administration’s new policy on the region. Though its details remain unclear, this In Brief discusses the strategy’s nature and its implications for Pacific Island countries (...

IB 2018/20 Measuring Attendance Patterns at Pacific Island Forum Leaders Meetings

Much of the domestic commentary surrounding the 2018 Pacific Islands Forum Leaders meeting (the Forum) in Nauru centered on the new Australian prime minister’s decision not to attend in person. This is by no means...

Discussion Paper

DP 2018/06 China, India and Japan in the Pacific: Latest Developments, Motivations and Impact

This paper will examine 3 questions 1) what are the latest engagements of China, Japan and India with the Pacific region? 2) What are their motives? 3) How have they impacted the region? The time frame of this...

DPA in Brief

IB 2018/11 China’s Growing Interest in Deep Sea Mining in the Pacific

China’s growing engagement with the Pacific region has attracted policy and academic attention in the past decade. Its involvement in deep sea mining in the region is an exception and remains poorly understood....

Hybridity on the Ground in Peacebuilding and Development

Hybridity on the Ground in Peacebuilding and Development engages with the possibilities and pitfalls of the increasingly popular notion of hybridity. The hybridity concept has been embraced by scholars and...

DPA In Brief

IB2018/02 Opportunity Knocks? ANU–PIFS Workshop on Regional Dimensions of Urbanisation

This In Brief summarises some of the issues discussed at that workshop by leading experts and elaborates on urban issues covered in the State of the Pacific Regional Report 2017.

DPA In Brief

IB2017/39 Pacific Island Countries, China & Sustainable Development Goals Part 4: Realising Opportunities in Agriculture

This In Brief is the last in a four-part series that explores China’s development cooperation with Pacific island countries (PICs) on the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The previous three parts focused on...

DPA In Brief

IB2017/26 Industry Guidelines for Chinese Mining Companies Abroad: Paper Tigers?

This In Brief discusses two sets of industry guidelines published by the Chinese government for Chinese companies investing in overseas mining projects. In the Pacific, these guidelines apply to seven mining projects...

SSGM In Brief

IB2017/24 The Pacific’s Independent Small Island States: Time Running Out?

Whatever their natural endowments and colonial inheritances, the future of the Pacific Island countries (PICs) of Nauru, Tuvalu and Kiribati must have seemed precarious at the time of independence (1968, 1978 and...

SSGM In Brief

IB2017/23 What Does the 2016 Census Reveal about Pacific Islands Communities in Australia?

The release of the 2016 Australian national census data allows comparisons with data from the 2006 and 2011 censuses. What do the data reveal about Pacific Islander communities in Australia?

SSGM In Brief

IB2017/22 Pacific Island Countries, China & Sustainable Development Goals Part 3: Chinese Scholarships in the Pacific

This In Brief is the third in a four-part series that explores China’s development cooperation with Pacific island countries (PICs) according to the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The previous two...

SSGM In Brief

IB2017/18 Pacific Island Countries, China & Sustainable Development Goals Part 2: The Belt and Road Initiative

This In Brief is the second in a series that discusses China’s role in supporting Pacific island countries (PICs) to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While Part 1 broadly discussed how PICs...

SSGM In Brief

IB2017/ 16 The UN Ocean Conference Regional Preparatory Meeting and Its Implications for Pacific Islands Countries: Some Observations

The United Nations (UN) Ocean Conference will be co-hosted by Fiji and Sweden in New York this June. This In Brief aims to critically assess regional preparations for the conference to date. I provide personal...

SSGM In Brief

IB2017/14 Pacific Island Countries, China & Sustainable Development Goals Part 1: Making the Most of Chinese Aid

This In Brief is the first in a four-part series that aims to enrich the debate on PICs–China development cooperation on SDGs and build on my recent report for the United Nations Development Programme in China. It...

SSGM In Brief

IB2017/2 Measuring Regional Progress for a Blue Economy

Why are Pacific economies smaller than those of other nations? The standard answer to this question highlights the unique vulnerabilities and dependencies of the region, such as size, distance from markets, and...

SSGM In Brief

IB2017/1 ‘Independence Doesn’t Have Any Meaning’: Disenchantment in Rural Papua New Guinea

This In Brief reports on recent research among the people who live in the shadow of Mt Wilhelm, PNG’s highest mountain, in the Kundiawa-Gembogl District, Chimbu Province. Existence for the people of this province...

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