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CPPR Townhall Ep 10 on China in South Pacific: Geopolitical Implications and Strategic Futures

Event Details

● Date and Time: June 17, 2022, 5:30 PM to 6:30 PM IST 

● Topic: China in South Pacific: Geopolitical Implications and Strategic Futures

● Platform: Zoom

● Speakers: 

Mr. Muraleedharan Nair (Senior Fellow, CPPR)

○ Mr. Don McLain Gill (Manila-based Geopolitical Analyst)

  • Moderator:
    • Ms. Sharon Susan Koshy (Research Associate, CPPR)

About the event 

South Pacific or Oceania is rising as a significant theatre of geopolitics in the 21st century. China’s growing presence in the region is a cause of worry for traditional security providers of the region like Australia and New Zealand. The recent security deal signed between China and the Solomon Islands is a case in point which has significant geostrategic implications. Further, China’s attempts to carve out a “Common Development Vision” for other Pacific Island nations is indicative of its long term strategic goals in the South Pacific. In this context CPPR hosted a discussion to deliberate on the current geopolitical implications and future strategies for the region.

Highlights 

Mr. Muraleedharan Nair:

  • The means to image building that China is employing within the region is through a show of hard power. 
  • Additionally, the Chinese approach has been fairly aggressive whereas the US has leaned into a more diplomatic approach that engages with international dialogue and security treaties like QUAD and AUKUS. 
  • China has built their relationship by deploying their military to other states particularly the Solomon Islands to resolve the domestic issues and to restore public order which calls into question the increasingly dominant role that China has in the security sphere in the region. 
  • Furthermore, China has made its displeasure with the US sending military on foreign lands quite clear thus, placing their actions as an act of their determination to gain an upper hand in this struggle for power inevitably inviting unrest and rivalry in the region.  
  • Chinese state actors use coercive methods to gain favour from other countries by leveraging their wealth and exploiting the corruption that is rampant within the other country’s bureaucratic system. 
  • The interactions between the bigger nations put nations in the region at a disadvantage and they often find themselves cornered into a position that is unfavourable.   
  • It is important for traditional security providers (i.e. US) to aid in the economic growth of smaller islands in the South Pacific. 
  • Though India may not be as big a player, some measures can be taken to boost the island’s security mechanisms and tourism. 
  • Though, it may not be sufficient to stop China, it will allow for a greater balance of power in the region.  
  • India’s engagement with the Indo-Pacific will be viewed through its participation in the QUAD. 
  • In addition to this, India has built good relationships with ASEAN as part of the Act East Policy which can be used to further integrate socio-economic links, which will decrease the necessity for dependence on Chinese resources. 
  • In regards to the US, there are certain conditions of aid that the US expects as opposed to China. The US has established that aid comes in exchange for US standard of practice within the domestic, social and political structure, whereas Chinese aid comes only with the condition of loyalty to China which is a significant variable to smaller nations. 
  • The narrative that China has built around principles of Common Prosperity and Common Respect is valuable to smaller nations in the region that have a history of being neglected in the global sphere.  

Mr. Don McLain Gill:

  • There is a noticeable trajectory of the increase in Chinese dominance and China has been laying the foundations to its influence in the region since the end of the second World War. 
  • The new Asian security relation framework would ideally centre on Asia for Asians. However, the power asymmetry greatly hinders the practicality of such an idea. 
  • China has an established and US-acknowledged dominance in Southeast Asia. Its dominance extends to the Indian Ocean and is presently attempting to extend into the Pacific as well. 
  • Chinese delegates have made their intentions clear to replace the old security order with a new one which has also been reflected in their actions in the region.
  • The most significant indicators of influence of extra regional power is seen through their outsourcing of military forces for extra regional power. 
  • It is clear that China is effectively taking advantage of the gap that the traditional security providers have left. 
  • Though the outsourcing of security for the domestic matters of nations is not a new idea, it sets a worrying precedent for the growing Chinese expansionist aspirations and the growth of non-traditional security providers. 
  • There have also been records of outsourcing security to private organisations that heightens probability of political unrest. 
  • China still has a long way to go before cementing its power in the region and outside its power-sphere. One of the primary indications for this argument, is the decline of the Comprehensive Security Treaty (declined by 10 Pacific states). 
  • Additionally, the debt crisis in China’s partners in South and Southeast Asia has indicated to other states that there is a hesitancy to join China. However, this should not come as appeasement to the traditional security providers as it is undeniable that China has made its presence known in the region and has the ability to effectively capitalise on that presence. 
  • China attempts to expand its economic influence in the region through the Indo Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) which does not have a rigid framework. The response to this has to be monitored as the IPEF plays out and the interactions among the regional players within the framework. 

Click here to watch the video recording of the session

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