Security expert says Pacific balancing act between super powers needs assertiveness

Pacific Island States must navigate the growing influence of super powers in the region, especially China and the United States - and that sometimes means declining offers of assistance, a security expert has warned.  

“Pacific Island States need to learn how to hedge between the waters," said Jose Luis Sousa-Santos,  the Managing Director of Strategika Group Asia Pacific, an international risk and security analysis advisory. 

"Sometimes it’s good to say no to loans and offers.

“When it comes to offers of aid in regards to development, we need to start to understand what it is we do need and what is it that we don’t need, and maybe sometimes we need to learn to say no.

“[We need to ask] what is development, and what is over development, and sometimes over-development might be creating debt which, in the long term, does not mean we cannot pay it, but do we need to have that debt settled on to our country, which means that future generations will have to service it?"

Mr. Sousa-Santos, in Samoa for the Women, Peace and Security Summit, said that as an independent region the Pacific needn't switch sides. 

“We are mature countries," he said. 

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“The Pacific knows what is right and what is wrong. We must be aware to not be tempted by greed, to not be tempted by projects. Sometimes what seems too good to be true might just be too good to be true."

He said the Pacific is not the only region that is in the middle of squabbles between big developed countries.  

“I think for the Pacific itself, at the risk of sounding cheeky, the Pacific has to learn how to navigate, to hedge these waters.

“There’s a big game being played and it’s just not being played in the Pacific. I’m of the view that China in the Pacific could be seen as the stabiliser. 

"Certain Pacific Island States see it as positive, some see it as negative.

“Traditional Pacific partners [New Zealand and Australia] see it as a negative as they still don’t quite see how to deal with China in the Pacific. It’s an unknown quantity for them. The U.S. sees it as a negative as well.

"What’s happening in the Pacific [with] China and the U.S [...is] also being played in Southeast Asia; it’s also being played in Africa; it’s also being played out in the sub-continent.

"We have to be aware and not make choices which may be good for the Pacific in the short term, but will cost us in the long term.”

Mr. Sousa-Santos said the final deliberation must always lie with Pacific Governments.

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