September 24, 2018

Australia's Changing Pacific Island Strategy in Response to China

Australia since 1990 has been allocating large military resources to US led counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism and drug interdiction ventures in Horn of Africa waters, Iraq and Afghanistan. The reduction of Islamic State activity in Iraq and Syria is permitting a reduction in Australian air and ground resources.

There is increasing Australian focus on threats and trends in countries closer to Australia. From the 1990s to 2018 Australia has conducted primarily armed policing style actions in the Arc of Instability including East Timor (with Pacific Island like problems), Papua New Guinea (PNG), Solomon Islands, with worries about indebtedness in Vanuatu and stability in Fiji as well as Tonga. See map below for PNG to Tongan arc.

From 2018 there is increasing Australian focus on China's competition in southwest Pacific island nations. China's substantial infrastructure spending, high military aid budget and debt entrapment are rapidly changing Australia's outlook with an Australian strategy to use many financial soft power tools to counter China.  See Fergus Hanson's fine ASPI Strategist article of September 10, 2018, which begins:
"If you were trying to design a low-cost strategy to constrict the operational horizon of an important US ally in the region, China’s ploys in the Pacific wouldn’t be a bad model to examine.
China has been talking a big game in the Pacific. It’s been reported as looking to fund a major regional military base in Fiji and scoping Vanuatu for a military base of its own. And it apparently has plans to refurbish four ports in Papua New Guinea, including the strategically significant Manus Island. Over the decade 2006–2016, it has committed US$1.8 billion in aid, and Chinese telco Huawei has sought to build undersea internet cables in the region.
Australia’s response has been frenzied, but perhaps not yet that strategic.
Our aid spending in the South Pacific has been hurriedly increased from A$1.1 billion in 2017–18 to A$1.3 billion in 2018-19, the ‘highest ever contribution’ we’ve made in the region. Australia had to outbid China for the Fiji base, investing a ‘significant’ figure...."

See Australia vs China influence in PNG, here and here.

Also see earlier SubMatt's April 2018 articles on counter-China in Vanuatu here and here.


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