Pacific island states bristle with the ‘Indo-Pacific’ label
Some Pacific island nations bristle at the label “Indo-Pacific”, a term that is increasingly used by major powers – including New Zealand – but which they say reduces them to a bloc of security rather than a group of countries with different views and needs.
From Australia to Japan and New Zealand to the United States, the term “Indo-Pacific” is increasingly used as a strategic concept, describing the region through a political and security lens, rather than an economic or based on values.
After Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern met US President Joe Biden in May, they released a joint statement that used the term “Indo-Pacific” 15 times.
The term is increasingly used as the United States, its allies and partners – including New Zealand – pledge to commit more diplomatic and security resources to the Pacific in particular, amid fears that the court of China does not divide the region.
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Professor Steven Ratuva said the concept of an “Indo-Pacific” region
“creates a hegemonic position where big countries can do anything in the Pacific without being accountable to regional island states”.
“With this logic, the region can then be used as an arena to advance their selfish strategic interests, thereby heightening tensions,” he said.
Indeed, no one asked the Pacific what he thought about being reduced to a strategic sphere.
“It’s someone else’s story,” said Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, Prime Minister of Samoa, when asked about the term.
Fiame said Samoa was not consulted on this. She raised the issue with Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong at a meeting earlier this year.
Vanuatu’s opposition leader Ralph Vegevanu was unequivocal about his views. “The term has no meaning or relevance to us,” he said by email.
Jean-Christophe Bouissou, vice-president of French Polynesia, said the term described a coming together of all countries that see the world in the same way – which was clearly not the case in such a diverse region. This did not help defuse tensions in the region, he said.
Beijing’s growing interest in the region has injected new tensions into the region as the world’s two major economies vie for influence. The power game has exacerbated leadership disputes and regional tensions between Pacific nations.
Biden will host Pacific leaders in Washington this month – in-person meetings to build support after announcing a refocus on the Pacific region – while Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta spends four days in Papua New Guinea this week to strengthen ties.
Rather, it represents the geostrategic interests of the countries involved in the
New Zealand is not part of regional security alliances like the “Quad” between Japan, Australia, India and the United States. But it is a launch partner of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for economic cooperation in the region.
Ratuva said there were suspicions that bigger powers like the United States, Australia and New Zealand could use economic plans like the Pacific Blue Continent strategy as a “Trojan horse” to serve its Indo-Pacific interests.
“Pacific leaders must pay attention to this and stand against it,” he said.
Tupe Solomon Tanoa’i, a Samoan-Fijian Kiwi who served as a New Zealand diplomat, said the term didn’t resonate with many Pacific island nations and disregarded competing interests in the region.
Pacific island states had diverse national interests and working together was not an easy road, she said.
“It forces countries with diverse national interests to work together on the issues that matter most to them – protecting the ocean, its resources and tackling the threat of climate change remains a priority for Pacific nations. , regardless of geostrategic concepts,” she said. .