The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) will hold its first in-person summit in three years this week amid growing US-China tensions over regional influence, as well as the impacts of COVID and climate change in the region.
The meeting, which is expected to be the most important in years, comes after Kiribati withdrew from the Forum over its failure to make good on appointing a Micronesian nation to lead the secretariat.
The US, Australia, and New Zealand must work together to collaborate in the areas of security, building resilience to climate change, and respecting the rights of indigenous cultures across the Pacific Islands. These allies can continue to support democracy across this vibrant region and resist Beijing's concerning expansion of influence.
China is a popular and supportive regional partner in the Pacific. While, Australia and other Western powers act as hegemonic colonists, intimidating neighbors who don't follow their orders, Beijing offers a wide range of economic and security development options without demanding political conditions.
Pacific Island nations have every right to play both sides. The current security situation in the South Pacific makes it possible for less influential countries to benefit from the angst of regional powers. The nations can leverage this to maximize aid from both China and the West.
None of the powers with an eye on Oceania - including the US, Australia, New Zealand, China, and Japan - are taking the true security concerns of the Pacific Islands seriously. The region is threatened by severe climate impacts, but these powers are more concerned with their self-interests. The security and future of the Pacific must be determined by Pacific Island countries on their own.