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Sara Phillips, 360info

Special Report: Pacific primer

Not usually at the forefront of geopolitical argy-bargy, the Pacific has recently emerged as a strategic element of securing democracy. A rift threatened to tear apart normally unshakeable regional unity in 2021, with five Micronesian countries threatening to leave the most powerful transnational group, the Pacific Islands Forum. Ahead of the July 12 - 14 meeting of the Forum, the rift seems to have been patched over. But both China and the United States have a renewed interest in winning friends and influencing the region. Each are expected to send high-level envoys to the Forum meeting. The US has long enjoyed military access to many Pacific Islands, including some with US bases. China’s recent attempts to establish the same with Solomon Islands has been met with alarm from the US and its regional allies. 

The patch that kept the Forum unified needs to be strong enough to withstand these opposing forces. While each nation may consist of small islands, united, they represent control of one fifth of the world’s oceans. 

Meanwhile the region faces considerable longer-term challenges that nations eager to form partnerships in the region can exploit to their advantage. Development, law and order, fisheries, security, communications, spiralling debt and women’s rights remain priorities for Pacific Island countries. And climate change, always climate change, lurks in the shadows of every aspect of Pacific life. 


The Pacific Ocean covers more than 30 percent of the Earth’s surface, stretching from the Arctic Ocean to the Southern Ocean; and from the west coast of the USA to the east coast of Japan. 

It contains around 30,000 recognised islands. 

The western and central Pacific provide around 60 percent of the world’s tuna 

There are around 1,400 languages spoken in the Pacific.


Quote attributable to Robert H. Richmond, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa The world’s oceans are a shared resource among all people, providing over 50 percent of the oxygen we breathe, and a diversity of resources of economic, ecological and cultural value for present and future generations.

Quote attributable to Aaron Jenkins, University of Sydney In the global and regional planetary health arenas, Pacific Island leaders are poised to drive action. Pacific Island nations are large ocean states, managing approximately 20 percent of the world’s oceans, the primary drivers of Earth’s climatic system. They are at a stage of development where their policy decisions will significantly affect the environmental and social wellbeing of the entire planet.

Quote attributable to Henrietta McNeill, Australian National University or Maima Koro, University of Adelaide Climate change is the single greatest threat to Pacific livelihoods and remains the focus of the 2018 Boe Declaration… It is unity over a shared threat that has brought the Pacific Islands together again. They cannot fight climate change alone. 


Lisa Williams Lahari, Pacific Islands Forum secretariat introduces the series.


Keeping everyone in the tent: the Pacific Islands Forum remains whole Tess Newton Cain, Griffith Asia Institute A last-minute agreement has avoided rupture in the Pacific Islands Forum. As the agreement was negotiated, regional strengths and vulnerabilities were revealed.

Mobile workers key to Pacific prosperity Paresh Kumar Narayan and Bernard Njindan Iyke, Monash University Encouraging work abroad schemes could help Pacific Island nations to steer their way clear of crippling debt.

The Pacific faces a radioactive future Robert H. Richmond, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa Japan plans to dump radioactive water from Fukushima into the Pacific Ocean, but its effects on Pacific nations are not clear.

The Pacific’s spiralling debt – and what governments can do about it Keshmeer Makun, University of the South Pacific Rising debt and declining income seem to add up to an austere future for Pacific Island nations. But belt-tightening may make things worse.

Asia and the Pacific stronger together Peter Brian Wang, Asia–Europe Institute, University of Malaya Better opportunities will arise from ASEAN and Pacific island nations banding together.

Reports of a Pacific fracture fail to understand the region Henrietta McNeill, Australian National University, and Maima Koro, University of Adelaide Pacific Island nations are keenly aware that disunity is unhelpful for the region.

Who’s willing to pay for sustainability in the Pacific? Isabella Massa and Guillaume Lafortune, Sustainable Development Solutions Network, and Simona Marinescu, Queen Mary University of London After major setbacks to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the Pacific needs fairer access to financing as it fights to overcome climate challenges

Pacific Islands vital to planetary health Aaron P. Jenkins, University of Sydney With Pacific Islands nations controlling 20 percent of all oceans, they are  at the foundation of initiatives to help the planet and our health.

Pacific digital toolbox needs expanding to hammer out misinformation Romitesh Kant, Australian National University A shortage of resources and investment from major digital platforms has left the Pacific region battling a campaign of misinformation and under-moderation.

A changing climate is changing the Micronesian way of life Lauren Hodgson, Nina Lansbury and Gabriela Fernando, University of Queensland As Pacific Islanders struggle to survive in the face of climate change,  they will need to adapt their traditional ways of fishing to the new  reality.

Expanded, empowered PIF could lock in Pacific security Anna Powles, Massey University, and Joanne Wallis, University of Adelaide Amid global political turbulence, the Pacific is a region whose influence is sought by the world’s powers. Regional coordination is as important as  ever.

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