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Opinion: China, The Pacific Islands And The West’s Double Standards

Opinion: China, The Pacific Islands And The West’s Double Standards
Tarcisius Kabutaulaka
September 12
12:41 2018

Tarcisius Kabutaulaka of the Solomon Islands has been appointed the next director of the Centre for Pacific Islands Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Born and raised on the Weather Coast of Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, he is a well-known and widely respected throughout the region. He has established a distinguished record of teaching, research and service in academic institutions, as well as a reputation for his work as a consultant for regional governments  and non-governmental organisations across Oceania and beyond.

For Pacific Island countries (PIC), the current geostrategic, geoeconomic and geopolitical discussions, especially around the Indo-Pacific strategy, is framed in three ways. First, the vulnerability narrative, which portrays PICs as vulnerable and therefore susceptible to outside influence, especially from China. Second, the treatment of PICs as pawns in the power play-off between the larger countries. Third, the portrayal of PICs as having no agency in the relations that they forge. All of these frames are problematic.

But here, let me deal with the vulnerability frame. Underlying this narrative are the interests of the metropolitan countries, rather than those of Pacific Island countries. Western countries are worried that the dominance they enjoyed in the region since WWII is now being threatened by China’s growing influence. The Quadrilateral partners’ (Quads) – US, Australia, Japan and India – rhetorical and policy responses to China’s growing influence in the region are driven by their own vulnerabilities, not those of Pacific Island countries. It is the western countries that are vulnerable. Not the PICs.

In this narrative, Pacific Island countries are treated as pawns in the power play-off by the powerful countries. Here, Pacific Island countries are treated as not important, in and of themselves, but only vis-à-vis the interests and security of western countries and the Quads. Hence, when Oceania is mentioned in the Indo-Pacific discussions, it is largely about how it could be used to serve the interests of western countries and their allies. Oceania is treated as a geostrategic, geopolitical and geoeconomic space where powerful countries exert their influence. In discussions, PICs are treated as pawns in their power play-offs. This is reminiscent of the Cold War era when the Oceania region was often regarded as an Anglo-Franco-American lake and where western countries deployed a policy of “strategic denial.”

Chinese concessional loans have been peddled as the biggest threat. But those who peddle this narrative often forget that the Bretton Wood Institutions – the World Bank and IMF – have, since the 1960s, given loans to Third World countries and forced them to build infrastructure that they could not afford. It created “debt traps” for many Third World countries. Those institutions then introduced structural adjustment programmes, through which they pushed neo-liberal policies, especially trade liberalisation.

I am not saying that it is good to be in debt to China.

Rather, western countries’ double standards and selective amnesia about history never ceases to amaze me. It is arrogance that borders on racism. 



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