Over the past year, US and European engagement in the South Pacific has noticeably accelerated. Wooing these islands away from Chinese influence is clearly a priority but there are many dimensions to this. The “Blue Pacific” is more than a consortium of scattered islands. They see themselves as large ocean states, which collectively make up the second-largest Exclusive Economic Zone in the world. While they are important as we game out Taiwan scenarios, the peoples of the South Pacific want their region to remain immune from “great-power games.” This calls for a subtle Transatlantic strategy emphasizing partnership.
This report acknowledges the mistakes of past engagement strategies, which didn’t approach the region as a coherent whole, lacked sustained and continuous effort, and always came second to other priorities in the Indo-Pacific region.
We argue in favor of building on the strong momentum of President Biden’s meeting with South Pacific leaders and the European Union’s 2021 Indo-Pacific strategy, its first-ever. Any successful engagement strategy must prioritize the islands’ existential concerns about climate change and rising sea levels. The US and the Europeans are better placed than competitors to deliver on this given their expertise on building resilience infrastructure and their stronger energy transition commitments. Maritime security, connectivity and transport, and assisting with the diversification of local economies should be the other pillars of our strategy.
US and European development assistance is dwarfed by Australia and New Zealand, which is inevitable. However, targeting resilience projects, where the former countries already have an edge, will generate recognition and credibility. The disparity in income levels across the region puts richer islands at a disadvantage when applying for funding from multi-lateral development institutions. These thresholds should be softened when there is a clear existential case for investment. While China is to remain an important partner of the South Pacific islands, governments need a multitude of options to avoid being leveraged by Beijing.
Issue Brief Dec 17, 2021
The EU as a global actor in the Indo-Pacific
By Marie Jourdain
The coming French presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first semester of 2022 presents a great opportunity to turn commitments to deepen such cooperation into action, demonstrating that the transatlantic community can effectively deliver together in the Indo-Pacific region.
Report Sep 13, 2021
Cyber defense across the ocean floor: The geopolitics of submarine cable security
By Justin Sherman
The vast majority of intercontinental global Internet traffic—upwards of 95 percent—travels over undersea cables that run across the ocean floor. The construction of new submarine cables is a key part of the constantly changing physical topology of the Internet worldwide. However, this dependence is not matched by increased security, leaving our undersea cables—the core of the global internet—at risk.
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