China Encroaches on Australia's Backyard

Apr 23, 2019 | 10:30 GMT

One of Fiji's many islands. Fiji is one of the four independent countries that make up the Melanesian subregion of the Pacific Islands. The other three include Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
Melanesia is one of three subregions of the Pacific Islands, along with Micronesia and Polynesia. In addition to Australian and French holdings, the subregion is home to four independent countries: Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Fiji and Papua New Guinea. 



  • China's increasing economic ties to Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Vanuatu are threatening Australia and New Zealand's historic grasp on the Pacific island subregion of Melanesia. 
  • In coordination with the United States, both Australia and New Zealand will deploy their subregional heft and longstanding diplomatic, economic and defense ties to counter Beijing's efforts and, in turn, maintain their prominent role among the island countries.
  • But China's infrastructure largesse and massive market for raw materials, along with its ambitions in the greater region, will solidify Beijing's presence in Melanesia — challenging the broader U.S. strategic hold on the South Pacific in the process. 

On the world stage, Australia is a middle power at best. But in the Pacific Islands, Australia is almost a superpower -- serving as a major source of aid, a hungry market and a stalwart defense ally for these tiny nations. This is especially true in the subregion of Melanesia, which has long been a key backstop for U.S. dominance in the Asia-Pacific. But China's increasing presence in Melanesia's resource-rich economies and infrastructure outlays, along with signs of nascent military ambitions in the area, are now threatening Australias preeminence in the region -- and, by extension, that of the United States. Both Australia and fellow U.S. ally New Zealand have attempted to stem China's spread by leveraging their historic large outlays of aid and defense assistance, as well as its regional diplomatic role. But Australia's own economic ties with China, as well as increasing internal pressures to cut international aid,...

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