Australia views stability in the Pacific Islands region as a critical aspect of its own national security. The 2016 Defence White Paper and 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper each place significant importance on the region. Both white papers also hint at increasing geostrategic competition in the region and a general sense of unease with growing Chinese influence in the Pacific. Yet why the Pacific Islands region is so important to Australia, and the extent to which China may be challenging Australia’s influence with its neighbours, is often poorly articulated.
This analysis examines the aims and actions of external actors in the Pacific Islands region. It explores the extent to which the traditional powers of Australia, France, the United States and New Zealand all consider stability in the region as a geostrategic aim, before examining what China is actually doing in the Pacific Islands region, and whether that poses a risk to regional stability. It concludes that if the Pacific Islands region really is critical to Australia’s national security, then Canberra must pursue a deliberate strategy to forge stronger links with its traditional partners in the region, and more equitable partnerships with its Pacific Island neighbours.