The practice of Australian foreign policy in the Pacific islands region is based on an assumption that the national interests of Australia and Pacific island countries are broadly similar. Pacific islands share with Australia custodianship of the same ocean, membership of the Pacific Islands Forum, Westminster parliamentary traditions and a history of cooperation to advance the region’s interests.
Australia’s dominance as an aid donor, investor and trading partner in the region has helped its policies and initiatives win acceptance from Pacific island governments. Peace, stability and prosperity in the Pacific islands region is supposed to be everyone’s goal, and on this basis, Australian diplomats have urged Pacific island governments to support Australian policies designed to achieve these mutually desired outcomes. Pacific island officials have in the past been reluctant to give voice to interests that conflict with Australia’s in conversation with their counterparts. But over the last five years, as perceptions of Australia’s influence have changed, as China’s visibility has grown, as the climate change threat has worsened and as Pacific island leaders have become more assertive on the public stage, Australia has found its assumptions about the region challenged. For the nation, this marks a new – and more difficult – era of Pacific diplomacy.