Despite seldom attracting global attention in the past, the island nations of the South Pacific (e.g. Australia, New Zealand) are becoming increasingly engaged in international politics. After Canada’s intelligence service suggested that New Zealand could succumb to Chinese influence, New Zealand responded by heavily criticizing China and announcing the purchase of military equipment from the U.S. Meanwhile, a bill to prevent foreign interference is going through Australia’s parliament, and the book Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia has become a bestseller. Moreover, the Pacific Islands Forum (Australia, New Zealand, and 16 other island nations) will sign a new security framework to shield themselves from external threats.
What does this mean?
During the Atlantic Age, Europe and the U.S. became the center of the world. Consequently, the South Pacific —also called Australasia — was at ‘the edge of the world’. It was not until the Second World War that the South Pacific emerged as a battlefield where great powers collided. Such intense geopolitical competition is emerging in the region once again. After all, the Atlantic Age is coming to an end and power is shifting to the East, so that the South Pacific has moved closer to the center of global affairs.
Foreign powers will increasingly engage in the South Pacific, and the region will be linked to emerging trade routes. The U.S. launched its Indo-Pacific strategy, which also focuses on the South Pacific, where it has military bases. While China is increasing its influence—and eyeing military bases—so are India, Japan and Taiwan. The U.K.’s vision for a Global Britain also ties into its Pacific legacy. Latin American countries that face the Pacific also have longstanding ties with the South Pacific. All of these countries are boosting trade, investment and aid ties. At the same time, new trade routes that include the South Pacific are emerging. The revised Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement will increase traffic between Asia, Australasia and Latin America. In addition, Australia is negotiating a free trade deal with the Pacific Alliance (Mexico, Peru, Chile, Colombia). These deals may also boost momentum for the Modern Silver Way since the Pacific islands could function as a hub between Asia and Latin America.