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Representing China in the South Pacific


Chinese diplomacy, aid, economic interactions and manifestations of soft power have increased the country’s influence in the South Pacific region. By some accounts, China’s influence is already approaching that of traditional stakeholders Australia and New Zealand. In Africa and other regions state-led and private activities in established powers’ perceived spheres of influence has caused concern and inspired particular narratives about China’s motivations. In this article we examine how media discourses in Australia and New Zealand have represented China’s role in the South Pacific. We find that China’s role has been constructed using multiple negative frames, which seek to establish China as unequivocally ‘different’. More than being unencumbered by the constraints of public opinion and a free press, China is portrayed as operating in a different moral universe, in which the cold hearted exploitation of vulnerable island nations (often in cahoots with venal island elites) is entirely normal. The article shows how such constructions reveal some of the complex issues involved in Australia and New Zealand’s relationships both with China and other South Pacific nations.

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    Available in English at Accessed March 10th 2012.

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    Note that identifying levels of ‘Chinese aid’ is often complicated by various definitions and calculations and the conflation of ‘foreign aid’ and ‘development assistance/cooperation’ [12].

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    One potential reason for the comparatively negative Australian coverage is the dominant ownership status of Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited.


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Correspondence to Jonathan Sullivan.

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Sullivan, J., Renz, B. Representing China in the South Pacific. East Asia 29, 377–390 (2012).

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  • Australia
  • China
  • Media coverage
  • New Zealand
  • Popular geopolitics
  • South Pacific