The economic rise of China, and later India, coupled with those of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the other Asian Tigers, saw the global centre of economic gravity shift from the West to the Indo-Pacific region. Despite the Chinese economy faltering in very recent times, the country has lifted around 600 million people out of poverty and India around 270 million. Other countries, including Cambodia and Bangladesh, have also seen their economies grow rapidly.

Despite that regional growth, the South-West Pacific countries have not enjoyed as much of it as others. The South-West Pacific region, which is commonly divided into the Melanesian, Micronesian and Polynesian sub-regions, comprises fourteen independent and freely associated countries that, together, have a land mass that is approximately the same size as Spain. Their exclusive economic zones, on the other hand, spread over 7.7 million square miles of the ocean. It is that geographic spread, coupled with its various resources, which makes these island countries strategically important.

Key points:

  • The military and economic rise of China has seen tensions between Beijing, Washington and Canberra play out in the South-West Pacific region.
  • China wishes to replace the United States in the South-West and Western Pacific.
  • The influence in the region of the US and Australia derives in part from the Second World War.
  • China’s rise, coupled with the established influence of the US in the South-West Pacific, could see the region become yet another proxy battlefield in the two antagonists’ power-plays.
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