China not Challenging United States Primacy in Pacific Islands, Says New Lowy Institute Analysis

May 16, 2013, 03:49 ET from Lowy Institute for International Policy

SYDNEY, May 16, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- In a new Lowy Institute for International Policy Analysis, Jenny Hayward-Jones, Director of The Myer Foundation Melanesia Program, provides a sober assessment of China's growing engagement in the Pacific Islands region. She argues that it is inaccurate and potentially counter-productive to view China's activities in the region in geo-strategic terms.

China's activities in the Pacific Islands are being viewed akin to its growing geo-strategic role in Asia. The resurgence of US interest in the region has been interpreted as part of the US pivot to the Asia-Pacific and out of concern for China's rising influence.

In 'Big Enough for all of us: geo-strategic competition in the Pacific Islands', Hayward -Jones reviews China's trade and investment, aid, diplomatic and military ties in the region. She argues that concerns about Chinese strategic ambitions are overstated.

'If China's aims in the region are to be described in terms of geo-strategic competition, then on the available evidence, China is not a particularly committed competitor', said report author Jenny Hayward- Jones.

The Analysis highlights that China is far from challenging the dominant role of other countries operating in the region. China's trade with the Pacific islands is approximately one third of the value of the region's primary trading partner (Australia); China only ranks as the region's fifth largest donor and China's military assistance pales in comparison to US spending on protecting the region.

'China is a long way from replacing Australia's dominance of the aid, trade and strategic domains in the South Pacific or displacing the United States as the dominant military power from the north', concludes Hayward- Jones.

The risk is that viewing China's activities through a geo-strategic lens will limit the ability to cooperate with China to both leverage the positive and manage the negative aspects of its increased activism in the region.

'Rather than speculate on China's future ambitions, Australia and the United States should focus on making more of their evolving relationships with China, and cooperate with China in aid and investment activities that support Pacific Island development priorities', she said.

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SOURCE Lowy Institute for International Policy