In the 2013 Defence White Paper the Australian government identified its zone of strategic interest as the Indo-Pacific, which it described as ‘connecting the Indian and Pacific Oceans through Southeast Asia’. That formulation was repeated in the 2016 Defence and the 2017 Foreign Policy White Papers and is increasingly used by the US, India, Japan and Indonesia.
While academic and policy debate about the Indo-Pacific concept has been voluminous, the question of how the Pacific Islands fit into this strategic region has been overlooked.
This changed when Dame Meg Taylor, Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, emphasised during her keynote address to the ANU State of the Pacific conference her concern about the ‘recasting of geostrategic competition and cooperation under the rubric of the ‘Indo-Pacific’’. A week earlier, Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi delivered a speech in which he highlighted the ‘real risk of privileging Indo over the Pacific’. Both were concerned that the Indo-Pacific formulation encourages external powers to overlook the particularities and interests of the Pacific Islands and to see the region primarily through the lens of geostrategic competition between major powers.
Pacific Islands’ leaders have responded by advancing the concept of the ‘Blue Pacific’. This formulation is intended to encourage Pacific Island states to act as a ‘Blue Continent’ based on their ‘shared stewardship of the Pacific Ocean’. Taylor has argued that this could see Pacific Island states ‘exercising stronger strategic autonomy’, ‘understanding…the strategic value of our region’ and ‘maintain[ing] our solidarity in the face of those who seek to divide us’.
Featuring speakers from Australia and across the Pacific Islands, this two-day workshop will use the question of how the Pacific fits into the Indo-Pacific as a starting point to analyse the changing geopolitics of the Pacific Islands and their implications for both the region and Australia. It will also ask whether the Blue Pacific concept has the potential to advance Pacific Islands’ regional cooperation in pursuit of their strategic interests.
The workshop is presented by the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Department of Pacific Affairs and National Security College, with additional funding from the College of Asia and the Pacific Asia-Pacific Innovation Program.