THE AIM OF THIS ARTICLE is to look at the significance of Asia in this 21st century and survey how PNG, as an emerging economic power in Pacific region, should realign her foreign policy.
This implies reorganising political, economic and strategic thoughts and resources to navigate through an uncertain environment with the strategic aim to gain the most optimal outcome.
The Asia-Pacific region is dynamic and becoming the geo-political, geo-economic and geo-strategic heartland of academic debate. The rise of China followed by India has structurally shaped States’ foreign policy behaviour.
Most analysts are questioning whether the current liberal order constructed by America would be replaced by rising China. If assumptions hold true, a ‘Sino-centric order’ with new rules of game, the ‘Beijing consensus’, will replace the ‘Washington consensus’.
Whatever the debate, our primary concern is we are now in an Asian century where Asia will play an important role in shaping international politics and global economic affairs.
Asia is seen as the lifeblood of international economic activities and interaction. The peaceful rise of China has been tagged as the ‘centre of gravity’ attracting massive investments since the mid-1990s.
Others, especially US allies, have seen this as a political manoeuvring towards ‘economic hollowing’ – where the more China gains in relative sense the more it shrinks the power of the US.
The rise of China and India has also influenced a structural transition towards a multi-polar world with the emergence of new actors such as BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).
Most analysts (especially Western policy makers and scholars) argue that the formation of BRICS is a political move replacing the liberal order for the benefit of developing countries. The first 2013 BRICS Summit will focus on establishing a financial bank for developing countries.
The South East Asian nations have progressed well since the 1997 Asian financial crisis. PNG’s closest neighbour, Indonesia, is trailing behind India, whilst the outlook for Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam seems promising.
The north-east Asian states, South Korea and Japan, are well advanced and provide business opportunities in international trade.
The rise of China has been assessed carefully by the US and its allies. China’s soft power diplomacy is characterised as smart as it gains grounds in Asia and the Pacific. Its peaceful expansion and influence through massive foreign untied investment and aid is calculated as challenging American supremacy in its traditional backyard.
The military modernisation of China has been under constant scrutiny by the US. While the ‘China Threat Theory’ is an ongoing debate, whether China is a real threat remains unclear. But China’s burgeoning economic supremacy has spurred global and regional economic growth and provided immense opportunities.
PNG has gained significant regional and global prominence with an uninterrupted decade of unprecedented economic growth fuelled by stable political environment, macro-economic policy regime, and LNG projects and minerals.
As a result, PNG has attracted foreign investment in a rapid fashion. This is evidenced in her increasing role in international relations such as participation in high level political and economic summit diplomacies.
There is also increased technical cooperation with Asia, including in trade, commerce, school education and higher education. PNG has signed agreements with the Thai government while making a commitment to establish a permanent Embassy in Thailand. Also last month, prime minister O’Neill announced PNG will supply Japan with LNG, signifying PNG’s growing role as an important player in the global energy market.
The significance of Asia in 21st century warrants a major shift in the way PNG conducts its international relations. A white paper on Asia outlining PNG’s strategic focus and targets is necessary.
The significance of the Pacific to PNG must not be left out of this. Over time, the Pacific has become less important to our national interest. Pacific regionalisation, although important, may not necessarily serve our strategic intent.
However, PNG will continue to maintain her traditional ties while manoeuvring into the Asian century. This strategic intent was affirmed by prime minister O’Neill’s recent statements at the Lowy Institute in Australia.
The Asia White Paper in should cover this strategic calculus:
Geo-political strategies (understanding political behaviour and political manifestos of countries in Asia which are of strategic interest; political cooperation at a higher level to maintain and strengthen ties; cooperation with new partners)
Geo-economic strategies (foster international trade and economic cooperation in countries such as China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan and South Korea including human capital development in areas of science and technology and innovation, public policy, politics and economics, and establishment of Confucius institute)
Geo-strategic strategies (build and strengthen security or strategic cooperation in areas of capacity and capability power projection with China, South Korea, Japan, India and others deemed strategic)
These are generic or overarching strategic goals which can be further explored and addressed by way of a white paper.
The rise of Asia in the 21st century is indisputably most promising in global and regional affairs. Countries have realigned their foreign policies to harness the opportunities presented by this dynamic region.
PNG must develop an Asia White Paper on how she should maximise national interests given the opportunity presented. Although the Pacific remains our traditional focus, the strategic interest remains less compared to Asia.
Francis Hualupmomi holds a Master of Arts in International Relations from Jilin University in China. He is a geo-political strategist and analyst. Email email@example.com