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Large Ocean States: Pacific Regionalism and Climate Security in a New Era of Geostrategic Competition

Abstract

This article explores the geopolitics of the Pacific Ocean, with a focus on independent Pacific island states. In narratives of great power politics, Pacific island countries tend to be portrayed as small, isolated, and vulnerable. In recent times, however, Pacific states have asserted an alternative narrative of their place in the world. Drawing on cultural and economic connections with the ocean, they have sought to reframe their identity as large ocean states with sovereign rights over a huge swathe of the earth’s surface—an area they have labelled the ‘Blue Pacific’. Island leaders have also expressed a willingness to pursue collective diplomacy in the face of challenges like climate change and ocean management. This article also considers the role of Australia in the region. Australia is the largest member of the Pacific Islands Forum, yet remains an ambiguous actor in the Blue Pacific. Australian engagement is ultimately driven by a desire to maintain influence and to deny the islands to other powers. Concerned about a more powerful China, and with an eye to the developments in the broader Indo-Pacific region, Australia has launched a Pacific ‘Step Up’ intended to reaffirm Australia as a security partner of choice for Pacific island states. Australia’s approach is problematic as it tends to prioritise Australia’s own security interests, and comprises for the most part unilateral initiatives developed in Canberra. These concerns notwithstanding, if Australia is to achieve its security ambitions in the region, policymakers will need to better understand and take seriously the Blue Pacific narrative and the security agenda it sets out.

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Acknowledgements

The author would like to acknowledge two anonymous reviewers for helpful and constructive comments which helped to improve the final version of this article. The author would also like to thank the editors for their patience and generous support during the review process. All errors are responsibility of the author.

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Financial support was provided by the Griffith University Climate Action Beacon.

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Correspondence to Wesley Morgan.

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Morgan, W. Large Ocean States: Pacific Regionalism and Climate Security in a New Era of Geostrategic Competition. East Asia 39, 45–62 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12140-021-09377-8

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Keywords

  • Blue Pacific
  • Pacific islands
  • Regionalism
  • Climate change
  • Indo-Pacific