Asia in the Pacific Islands: Replacing the West

Following on from my earlier post concerning Chinese investment in the Pacific and more specifically Papua New Guinea, there is a book which I most definately reccommend to anybody who is concerned with the geopolitics of the entire Asia-Pacific.

The influence of New Zealand, Australia and European countries in the Pacific is gradually declining – that is the overarching point of Ron Crocombe’s latest book: Asia in the Pacific Islands: Replacing the West.

The Cold War rivalry between the US and Soviet camps that impacted heavily on the Pacific in the post-World War period has given way to an intense sovereignty struggle between China and Taiwan.

A growing focus on the Pacific enhances the leverage micro Island states get from raw materials – fisheries, minerals and timber (particularly in Melanesia), providing they don’t dissipate too rapidly.

As University of the South Pacific professor emeritus Ron Crocombe argues in this timely book, Asia in the Pacific Islands: Replacing the West, the region’s ‘most valuable non-material “resource” is their ability to take sides on issues that are irrelevant to them, but important to those who want their votes in international forums’

New Zealander Crocombe believes a ‘spectacular transition’ is under way in the Pacific. For the past two centuries, culture, economic, political and other external influences have been ‘overwhelmingly Western’. However, this paradigm is now shifting to predominantly Asian influences.

Asia has already become more important than Western sources in areas such as exports and investments. The overriding concern, Crocombe believes, is the hegemonic ambition of the government of China. He points to looming energy and water crises on the mainland – China has 21 percent of the world’s people, but only seven percent of its fresh water and farmland, three percent of forests and two percent of oil. China has the world’s greatest environmental problems, including 16 of the world’s most polluted cities and the abandonment of 24,000 villages because of desertification.

Sir Michael Somare with Chinese Primier Wen Jiabao on his official visit to the People's Republic of China in 2004

Crocombe predicts a rapid acceleration of the movement of Asians into the Pacific Islands – a region of some eight million people (three quarters of them in Papua New Guinea). Already, more than a million Northeast Asians visit Micronesia annually and tourism is likely to grow along with increasing numbers of contract workers, traders and residents.

Some Pacific countries are offering incentives such as the Northern Mariana Islands, whose government offers permanent residence to those who invest more than $200,000 – a plan to attract more Japanese and Chinese.

In this ‘look North’ Pacific context, it is vital, argues Crocombe, that Asian nations are far better informed about and understood. Changes in emphasis for the Pacific education and media sectors are vital. While Pacific media is becoming more powerful and concentrated, Crocombe warns that the region is ‘entering a “disinformation” era, in which news is distorted by governments, advertisers and other interest groups’ – mostly Western at present:

The proportion of information by those aiming to be objective and dispassionate seems to get lower the higher the cost of dissemination. Some of the most creative minds are bought into “public relations”, creating [an] artificial demand for goods and services, and “laundering” the actions of governments and commerce.

Receiving the Royal Treatment - Chinese Style: Sir Michael Somare

Crocombe complains that the region’s media have been too slow to respond to the growing Asian influence. He notes that the two largest English-language dailies, The Fiji Times and PNG Post-Courier, are part of the Murdoch media empire. The French-language dailies are owned by the Dassault-Hersant-Socpresse conglomerate while the Pacific Daily News in Guam, largest newspaper in the North Pacific – where Asians have had a higher profile since the 1970s – is part of the US Gannett chain.

While Indian language papers and media ownership is declining, such as in Fiji, Chinese language publications and ownership are growing. Rimbunan Hijau, an ethnic Chinese Malaysian timber conglomerate with regional media interests, founded The National daily in PNG in 1993 to improve its rapacious image. Chinese ethnic ownership is also involved in dailies in Fiji and Vanuatu.

NOTE:

Fourteen Pacific countries, including Australia and New Zealand, are among the 170 that support one China; six of the 23 global nations that back Taiwan are in the Pacific – Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.

This book review was written by David Robie.

~ by Tavurvur on September 8, 2008.

6 Responses to “Asia in the Pacific Islands: Replacing the West”

  1. asians are taking advantage of the look north policy to munipulate our public servants, run bussiness reserved for us papua new guineans and flooding our market with cheap,fake,counterfeit and low quality goods….so the look north policy is really a loop hole created by the government to steal from the poor people of the nation who are being the losers ….so here is a warning to the people who have created this policy…..wwhen the rich became rich and the poor became poor the winds of change will blow…..

  2. Hi Samuel, thanks for commenting on my post : ).

    I agree with you to a certain extent. I think too often Papua New Guineans point the finger to Asians in PNG and blame them for “taking” business from us. If anything – Asians are “creating” business opportunities in PNG – particularly in the small business sector.

    SOE’s and mining companies don’t drive the economies of most countries – it is small businesses who make the wheels turn round. I don’t see what is stopping PNGeans from doing exactly what Asians are doing in PNG – there is nothing special or unique about the way they do business in PNG.

    The simple fact that they are in PNG and taking advantage of business opportunities is a reflection of our lack of initiative and entrepreneurship as Papua New Guineans.

    On the topic of cheap, counterfeit, and low quality products that are flooding our market – I somewhat agree with you. The PNG villager is not able to afford the “real” stuff, so what do we expect? They need to eke out a living as well and if that means they purchase a cheap/fake product to enable them to improve their lives – then by all means they should – and I don’t think anyone has the right to tell them they can’t or shouldn’t do that.

    I guarantee you this – if you go into any remote rural village in PNG you will notice that the people there are not the ones complaining about cheap/fake products. It is those of us who have been urbanised, and who have enough disposable income to make a choice. To the PNG villager – the cost of goods is a huge factor.

    The problem I have with these cheap/fake goods is the question of where does the money go? Does it stay in PNG – or is it bootlegged out of PNG back to their countries of origin?

    The answer to this question has serious ramifications and it would be interesting to do a bit of research into this matter.

    Kabot,

    Tavurvur

  3. First of all Tavurvur, I just want to say I’ve been seeing your comments on my blog and only now did I decide to take a peek at your blog. Great work on a very engaging blog.

    I totally agree with you on the fact that we have only ourselves to blame firstly for letting them in so easily and then secondly not competing against them effectively.

    Just reading this post a thought hit me. Hell if an Asian company can setup an english newspaper. Why couldn’t a PNG’ean setup a Chinese language newspaper in PNG for that market. They’re here already so lets all make some money!

  4. Emmanuel,

    Why not? What about setting up a regional Pacific Chinese newspaper/magazine?

    Published bimonthly and highlighting successful Chinese nationals in the Pacific, business opportunities, business advice, government policies, news from China, fugitive watch, trends in the Pacific, reporting on what Taiwan is up to in the region, what other Chinese are are up to…

    It would work. The Chinese are a collective proud society loyal to their roots – there you go, the slogan of the magazine: “Promoting China in the Pacific” – in Mandarin of course.

    It will work as long as it is informative and not objective – as soon as the magazine starts attacking countries and their leaders, bye bye Chinese newspaper.

    Which reminds the author, Tavurvur needs to learn Mandarin or Cantonese. One day.

    Kabot,

    Tavurvur

  5. Top ideas T, okay I’ll have to have a good think about this. And I’m gonna have to learn Mandarin or Cantonese somewhere along the way.

  6. Tavuvur, nice blog, diverse and interesting issues..keep up the good work. Will be a regular visitor on your blog.

    Regards,
    Solo

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