Australia is doing a policy pivot to the South Pacific. The headline driving the pivot is the challenge from China. Australia’s deep strategic denial instinct is roused.
Our announced ‘step-up’ is aimed at Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the other island members of the Pacific Islands Forum. Add to that list Timor-Leste, which faces the same problems as the islands and is part of the island arc that has obsessed Australia since before federation.
With the pivot, we’ve made an ambitious offer to the South Pacific—economic and security ‘integration’—to uphold the region by holding it closer.
Integration is a confronting idea for the identity and sovereignty of newly independent nations. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has shown political and diplomatic insight by talking about Australia as part of the ‘Pacific family’.
The family imagining offers much, not least a lens to widen Australia’s understanding of our destiny, duty and desires in PNG and the islands.
New Zealand will be central in setting the ambition for and the limits to integration. Wellington must play the special role it claims for itself in the Pacific. New Zealand knows all the benefits of alliance with Australia and the free movement of goods, services and people. Yet this embrace of the kangaroo has never hurt kiwi identity or sovereignty. New Zealand is proudly itself, while prospering from the kangaroo partnership. The New Zealand experience of partnership with Australia is the positive model for the creation of a Pacific community to serve the Pacific family.
To succeed, the pivot must be long-term policy with a broad vision of what Australia and New Zealand offer the South Pacific.