A new Pacific step-up
In the six years since the Paris [climate] conference, geostrategic competition between the United States and China has prompted major powers to take a renewed interest in Pacific island states. China, through its Belt and Road Initiative, has financed important infrastructure projects in the region, including wharves, airports and roads. The United States has responded with hundreds of millions of dollars in aid as part of a 2019 “Pacific Pledge”. Japan too has committed new funds for infrastructure, while New Zealand bumped up aid as part of a 2018 “Pacific Reset”. The United Kingdom has dived back into the region with a 2019 “Pacific Uplift” that includes three new diplomatic posts in the Pacific. French president Emmanuel Macron visited Australia and New Caledonia in 2018 to remind everyone that France was a “Pacific power” with a keen interest in making sure China does not dominate the region. Even Indonesia announced a “Pacific Elevation” in 2019. Amid these pledges, resets, elevations and uplifts, Australia’s Pacific step-up is in a crowded field.
Unlike Australia, however, other countries have leveraged climate policy to win friends in the region. They have highlighted steps they are taking to reduce emissions and have promoted Pacific leadership on climate. France, for example, has recast its Pacific image from a colonial power that tests nuclear bombs to a key partner in the climate fight. At the 2015 Paris conference, then French president François Hollande told island leaders that “France is fully a country of the Pacific… we share the life and future of the big Pacific family”. The following year, the French territories New Caledonia and French Polynesia were welcomed as members of the Pacific Islands Forum.