New research reveals geopolitical jostling between Pacific development partners


Strategic jostling between China and Pacific Islands Countries’ traditional development partners — Australia, France, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States — has transformed development assistance into a flashpoint in the intensifying geopolitical competition in the region, a new Lowy Institute Policy Brief shows.

The report by Meg Keen and Alan Tidwell, entitled Geopolitics in the Pacific Islands: Playing for advantage, notes that Pacific Islands leaders are trying to navigate complex regional rivalries, while leveraging aid investments to their advantage.

“Geopolitical competition has led to record high development aid and loans to Pacific Islands Countries,” they write. “In some cases, this aid boosts critical infrastructure and services, but where accountability and transparency are weak, it can serve narrow political interests above development goals.”

Keen and Tidwell argue the challenge for Australia and the United States is to play to their own strengths while aligning with Pacific priorities. Their strengths include shared institutions, relationships beyond government, as well as regional and multilateral initiatives that include all Pacific countries.

“More partner funding alone will not solve the problem,” they write.

“What is needed is more innovative engagements so we can better pool resources, dial up impact, and strengthen regional and national institutions to deliver services and accountable governance.”

Geopolitics has changed regional dynamics, Keen and Tidwell argue, and that requires that development partners also evolve their approaches and relationships to be more effective in meeting the region’s needs.

The Policy Brief Geopolitics in the Pacific Islands: Playing for advantage is available to read and download at the Lowy Institute website.


Andrew Griffits
Head of Media and Communications