John Blaxland’s proposal for a “grand compact for the Pacific” is Australia-centric and marginalises Pacific islander voices. It highlights Australia’s continuing struggle to define its relationship with the region as well as its concerns about the changing geopolitical order as China’s influence grows.
Canberra’s fetishisation of and desire to lead the South Pacific is not new. For many Australian politicians, bureaucrats and academics, the region is their “patch” – a place that is simultaneously an exotic tourist destination, a research topic and a strategic sphere of influence. They also view it as an “arc of instability”, a sweeping curve of countries marred by poor governance, as journalist Graeme Dobell and others have noted. In this relationship, Australia is characterised variously: as neighbour, enforcer, leader, big brother, development partner. Some even view Australia as a member of the region.