In the subtitle of her essay for “Cross Purposes” (AFA6: Our Sphere of Influence), Jenny Hayward-Jones poses the question “why is Australia’s Pacific influence waning?” This is a compelling query for a country that has for so long enjoyed a position of dominance and leadership in the region. And it has underpinned Australia’s diplomatic push into the Pacific to reclaim (or retain) the position of partner of choice – whether in the development, security or political sphere.
For the first time in the postcolonial era, Australia has found itself competing with an alternative regional power in China. This contest is having some positive spin-offs for Pacific nations as they are presented with new offers of support and new avenues for development. But there is also the possibility of a dangerous escalation of tensions reminiscent of the Cold War. Australia is projecting its anxieties and concerns about China onto the Pacific and allowing its regional policies to be shaped by this lens.