New Asia-Pacific economic bloc excludes PNG
25 May 2022
The omission of PNG and the Pacific Islands from the alliance is both a misguided decision and a missed opportunity
NOOSA – It’s a bold if obvious idea that crept onto the agenda while we in Australia were having a general election.
It’s also a flawed idea but, given its general air of contempt towards the Pacific Islands, I’m not surprised the Morrison government let it slide.
On Monday, while newly-anointed Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese was jetting to Tokyo for a Quad summit, US president Joe Biden was announcing the creation of an economic bloc to counter China’s dominance and reassert American influence in the Asia-Pacific region.
Biden said he had enlisted 12 other nations to join the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (let’s call it IPEF because they will) alongside the US: Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
No Pacific Islands nation is represented in the bloc, which represents 40% of the global economy in the fastest-growing part of the world.
Given IPEF’s membership, it seems the US expects Australia and New Zealand to exercise some kind of stewardship over Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands when decisions are made that affect their interests.
I do not believe Pacific Islands’ countries will find such an arrangement acceptable.
In terms of China’s steady expansion into the south-west Pacific, the omission of PNG and the Pacific Islands from the alliance seems to be both a misguided decision and a missed opportunity, given that a key purpose is to offer an alternative to Beijing’s leadership in the region.
The decision is even more perplexing when three countries much smaller than PNG (with a population of nine million) are joining the boc: Singapore (5.8 million), New Zealand (4.8 million) and even Brunei (440,000).
A wiser US might have cleared some space at the round table for PNG or, at the very least, for representatives of the Pacific Forum.
The present composition of the bloc is nothing less than a calculated insult to PNG and Pacific Islands governments.
It suggests they can be adequately represented by other powers or in other ways subdued into conformance with decisions made.
The New York Times said there had been “uncertainty and scepticism” in the region about what the new framework would mean.
American officials have failed to precisely determine its functions much beyond an airy “we’re writing the new rules for the 21st-century economy” (Biden) and “the most significant international economic engagement that the US has ever had in this region” (US commerce secretary, Gina M Raimondo).
In December, China launched its own Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership linking 15 Asia-Pacific economies in the world’s largest trade bloc.
Most of the countries Biden signed up for IPEF already belong to the Chinese bloc.
Beijing has criticised IPEF for benefiting only a limited group of nations.
MEANWHILE, in Sydney, researcher Dr Teow Loon Ti has accused Australia of “behaving like a clone of the United States”.
He reached this conclusion after observing what he sees at Australia's exaggerated response to the recent Solomon Islands development and security agreement with China.
Australia had “embarrassed itself by going into hysterics over a neighbour’s choice of friends,” Teow said.
He criticised an article by 9fax journalist Peter Hartcher who wrote that “the advent of a potential Chinese military base destabilises Australia’s near northern approaches.
“The nation has now lost the ability to fight wars abroad.”
“Unfettered speculation about nefarious intentions,” snorted Teow derisively.
“It seems quite a stretch of the imagination that a mere handshake can morph into a military base to destabilise Australia and compromise its capability ‘to fight wars abroad’!
“The last phrase is colonial discourse at its best,” he said.
President Biden must have been looking at one of the maps from the 1960s when Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Fiji were colonies and he forgot that these colonies have become independent nations.
It now seems genuine concerns raised by people if President Biden is suffering from dementia.
Australia can remind him the colonies are now nations and should be invited to join the group to counter China in the Pacific.
Except Australia didn't remind him, Kindin, which suggests a type of dementia that Australia's politicians and diplomats are also experiencing. Let's call it Biden's Syndrome - KJ
Posted by: Kindin Ongugo | 27 May 2022 at 10:30 PM
Spot on again, Keith. One could ask why the people and governments of Pasifika would want to belong to a club which includes members who treat them with condescension and arrogance and continue to engage in what Teow Loon Ti calls 'colonial discourse'.
Paul is right: we should listen more and lecture less. And we could and should learn from China and start to take a long term view of the world.
China has had, since 1949, a 100 year plan to restore it to its former place in the world. (And I, for one, believe it will succeed.....)
Posted by: Ed Brumby | 26 May 2022 at 08:09 AM
It is hard not to become despondent when you see the small Pacific nations essentially ignored in these initiatives.
Not much has been learned from history it seems. If any open warfare were to eventuate between China and the western powers, it is certain that the Pacific would become a major arena for combat.
Surely this is why China is angling to secure a regional cooperation agreement covering virtually all of the small Pacific nations? They at least seem to have understood the implications of what open conflict might entail and appear to be taking active steps to strategically position themselves to influence events across the Pacific.
If we are serious about embracing and cultivating our 'Pacific family' then surely it makes sense to consciously include them within the constellation of South East Asian nations which, loosely at least, form part of the 'western bloc'.
Their contribution is likely to be modest at best but at least they ought to have a seat at the table with the 'great and the good'.
Let us hope that Penny Wong has enough influence to convince our 'great and powerful friend', the USA, that this might be a good idea.
Posted by: Chris Overland | 25 May 2022 at 11:18 PM
Maybe a role for modern Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels or some Kago Boi.
ASEAN, APEC, QUAD, 5-EYES, NATO, G8-1, G20, UNO, Security Council. Meetings! Meetings! No time for governing.
Guess you nations gotta do his Biden.
Posted by: Arthur Williams | 25 May 2022 at 07:40 PM
PNG and the Pacific Islands are merely categorised as "shithole" countries by neoliberal governments in the US, UK and AUS. This is reflected in the Spitting Image "Tory Atlas of the World":
However when war arises their citizens are conscripted and become cannon fodder.
"When the rich make war, it's the poor who die." - Jean Paul Sartre
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 25 May 2022 at 10:51 AM
Here again is an apparent regional replication of the classic mistake the just ousted conservative government of Australia made. It failed to listen to what ordinary people were saying and tried to tell them what they should do.
If the reverse perspective was to be considered, those who have been in the position of telling others what they should think and do, mostly automatically reject any suggestions from those being lectured.
When has the US, or for that matter Australia, ever listened to the polite but subtle messages being conveyed by smaller independent nations?
Power corrupts etc but real power is often measured in the long term by listening and not lecturing. Understanding is a far more powerful influence than bluster and BS.
Posted by: Paul Oates | 25 May 2022 at 09:10 AM