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The "crowded and complex geopolitics" in the Pacific

Biden with Pacific leaders
Source: RNZ Pacific

Adelaide, SOUTH AUSTRALIA — An expert on statecraft in and around the Pacific says the "whack-a-mole" approach of the US and its allies to China's efforts in the region could be working against them.

Since 2019, when the Solomon Islands and Kiribati cut diplomatic ties with Taipei in favour of Beijing, there has been a steady increase in diplomatic engagement with Pacific countries mainly driven by the geopolitical contest between Washington and Beijing.

University of Adelaide's professor of international security Joanne Wallis and her team have updated their story map of the tools of statecraft being deployed by countries in the Pacific.

Professor Wallis told Pacific Waves their analysis is that a more considered, responsive approach to China's activities would serve Western nations better than their current reactive tendencies.

"Statecraft is basically the actions that states take to 'try to change' their external environment; so their region or the globe, or even just their very close environment, the policies or behaviour of target states or actors or other groups, and also to try to change the attitudes, the beliefs and the opinions of those targets," she said.

"It's quite a broad definition but we think it tries to capture all the elements that statecraft is trying to achieve."

Professor Wallis said the tools of statecraft are the mechanisms statecraft exercising actors try to use, such as aid, loans and security assistance.

However, she said there were also other equally effective tools such as "soft power". These included; education scholarships, role of state media, support to local media, language training, churches, tourism and labour mobility.

"And then you get to the sort of more, more difficult to identify, but potentially powerful mechanisms such as grey zone activities. These might be misinformation or disinformation campaigns…putting the wrong information out via the media or social media to try to change people's beliefs."

She said there has been a lot of discussion about the "crowded and complex geopolitics" in the Pacific and all the state profits being exercised.

She said the Mapping Statecraft in the Pacific Islands story map attempts to "get a real sense about what is actually going on."