Wednesday, 21 November 2007 2:25 PM

Australia Still Region's Major Player

Observers say that Australia is still the dominant player in the region despite the increased involvement of several different powers.

The Marianas Variety reports Pacnews as stating that analysts argue that Australia is still the main player in the region despite the increased involvement of other powers, such as the European Union, China, Japan and Taiwan.

According to the report, the 38th Pacific Islands Forum, held in the Tongan capital of Nuku'alofa, on Oct. 16-17, saw the European Union (EU) pledge $392 million worth of aid to Pacific island nations over the 2008-2013 period, an amount described by the prime minister of Papua New Guinea, Sir Michael Somare, as "a massive increase" from previous years. This "massive increase" in aid represents a greater role in the region for the EU.

The report quotes Benjamin Reilly, director of the Center for Democratic Institutions at the Australian National University, as stating that China, Japan and Taiwan are also heavily engaged in the Pacific with 'most of Japan's aid linked to commercial interests such as fisheries, while Taiwan is using financial incentives to gain diplomatic recognition'. Riley says that China, which competes with Taiwan for recognition via checkbook diplomacy, sees the South Pacific as part of its "neighborhood" and that 'possibly more important for China, however, are the region's natural resources'.

"China's increasing involvement with Papua New Guinea, which has massive gas and mineral reserves, can be seen in this context," said Reilly.

The report also quotes Nic Maclellan, a former senior policy advisor on the Pacific for Oxfam International, now working as a freelance journalist and researcher on the region as stating that 'the engagement of these powers and other key players in the Pacific - including the United States and multilateral agencies such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank - have complicated Australia's long-term strategic dominance of the region.
Also, the souring relations between Australia and some of the island nations in the region such as the Solomon Islands and Fiji is another factor affecting Australia.

However, the fact remains that Australia still plays a key role in the South Pacific, as it has been for some time now being geographically in proximity of the region compared to other powers. Australia has allocated some $702 million for PNG and other island nations for this financial year alone. While nations in the region are looking elsewhere for aid and such as offers from there appear more "greener", the fact remains that Australia has long been involved in the region and is more familiar with how island nations function that it will be some time yet before other powers can edge it out.