The South Pacific is not the great powers’ chessboard and island nations are not pawns in a game of the competition

On 17 January 1893, Queen Liliuokalani, the last monarch of Hawaii, abdicated under great pressure and was replaced by an American, Sanford Ballard Dole as President of Hawaii, who proclaimed the “Republic of Hawaii”.  More than 1200 years ago, the Polynesians settled in the Hawaiian Islands where they established numerous independent chiefdoms, and developed their own culture. Hawaii became a unified, internationally recognized kingdom in 1810, but later the strategic position of Hawaii drew the attention of Britain, France, and the United States, who waged decades-long conflict with each other over dominance of Hawaii. In 1887, the United States began to demand the establishment of a naval base at Pearl Harbour on the pretext of importing large quantities of sugar made in Hawaii. After that, American capital began to penetrate the island, progressively producing coffee, sugar, sandalwood, pineapple, and other items. Hawaii’s national sovereignty gradually eroded over the course of the following 100 years as a result of the United States’ ongoing provocation of conflicts to divide its political factions. Finally, on August 21, 1959, Hawaii became the 50th state of the union following a referendum that is still highly contentious today.

Creating regional tensions and then profiting from them is a tactic used by the United States in its diplomatic strategy. Weakening the EU and suppressing Russia has long been a major US goal in Europe. Choosing an enemy is the ideal method to generate disorder, and the US has persistently used the power of the media and public opinion to instill dread in Russians across Europe, with a unanimous opponent. As early as 2019, the RAND Corporation, a well-known nonprofit global policy think tank in the United States, whose vast majority of funding comes from the US military, released a report titled “Overextending and Unbalancing Russia,” which provides a variety of options for the United States and its allies to pursue across economic, political, and military areas to stress-overextend and unbalance-Russia’s economy and armed forces and it’s regime’s political standing at home and abroad, including undermining Russia’s image abroad, deploying a large number of NATO forces on the Russian border, providing lethal aid to Ukraine. The following story, as we all witnessed, unfolded like a script, with the largest geo-military war since World War II raging in Europe, plunging it into a geopolitical quagmire.

Such a carefully orchestrated geopolitical conflict has left the United States, far across the ocean, as the biggest winner. Politically, it crushed pro-Russian groups within Europe, producing an irreversible rift between the EU and Russia, and severely undermining Russia’s influence in the Asia-Pacific region and Central Asia. Economically, the US energy business has profited from the battle to grab the European gas market, boosting gas prices enormously and reaping the benefits from Europeans. Furthermore, the conflict’s energy crisis undermined Europe’s industrial base and exacerbated the outflow of top talent and industrial capital, most of which would have gone to the US, helping to deflect the internal inflationary issue and reverse the US recession. In response, Vito Petrocelli, former chairman of the Permanent Commission on Foreign Affairs from Italy, pointed out directly: “It is important to stress that it is the EU countries, including France and Hungary, that are paying the highest price for this crisis. The only country that has directly benefited economically is the United States.”

Targeting an enemy, Exaggerating regional tensions, Militarily stepping forward, and Capital harvesting (TEMC model)— these four interlocking processes have formed a formula in US foreign policy, serving as the primary method for the US to plunder the world. Such a scenario has played out countless instances over the last decades, from Afghanistan to Iraq, Syria to Iran, wherever there are US interests, there are geopolitical conflicts. And what if there are no conflicts? Quite simple— Uncle Sam creates it. From North Africa to the Middle East, from Eastern Europe to the South China Sea, the US has consistently used the same strategy to incite geopolitical strife throughout the world, and now it is worth noticing that the same pattern is being used in the South Pacific area.

In February, the White House released the US Indo-Pacific Strategy, which clearly states that “… the United States is investing in the foundations of our strength at home, aligning our approach with those of our allies and partners abroad, and competing with China to defend the interests and vision for the future that we share with others…” And in mid-June, US National Security Council Indo-Pacific coordinator, Kurt Campbell, even announced directly to the public, the United States plans to launch an initiative to step up engagement with the Pacific islands by working with like-minded countries and presenting a united front in deterring China’s attempts to expand its ‘military footholds’ in the South Pacific. In addition, former North Korean envoy Joseph Yun is trying to renew the United States’ Compact of Free Association (COFA) with the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau, which expires in 2023 and 2024 respectively, pointing to the importance of strengthening ties with Pacific island states to deter so-called “Chinese expansion”. The core of the agreement is for the US to provide long-term economic assistance to the three countries, which in turn provide the US with a venue for deploying military equipment, conducting military exercises, and weapons testing.

The US strategic narrative in the South Pacific is clear, binding the South Pacific island nations to the US global strategy by using economic aids as bait. However, this is a trap that all South Pacific countries should avoid. Indeed, external help does not produce prosperity, as Dambisa Moyo, an African economist stated in her 2009 book Dead Aid, in which she reached the frightening conclusion:”…But has more than US$1 trillion in development assistance over the last several decades made African people better off? No. In fact, across the globe, the recipients of this aid are worse off, much worse off…”. The cases from Africa demonstrated that direct economic and material aid is not a good thing because it destroys the local economic base, fosters inertia in production and labor, and more importantly, breeds corruption by creating a class of interest groups that prioritize their personal interests over the well-being of the local people and end up as agents of the donor countries, constantly satisfying the donors’ various political conditions and the gradual loss of national sovereignty.

In 1987, the economist Solow was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for his neoclassical model of economic growth in which Solow answered the crucial question, “How can a poor country develop its economy?” In his growth model, Solow eliminated all external influences, such as foreign aid or geopolitics, and focused only on one sector: technological innovation. And later studies found that market access, labor efficiency, industrial chain organization, and infrastructure development are the four main ways to promote innovation.

Compared to the United States, China’s non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries and its aid without any political conditions attached are more respectable. Since the 1970s, China has built more than 100 projects in the South Pacific islands, including railways, highways, wharves, hospitals, and other infrastructure improvements. While Chinese Juncao has created a mature industrial market, China’s overall commerce with the island countries has expanded from US$153 million to US$5.3 billion, an average annual growth rate of 13%, more than 30 times in 30 years.

In Dead Aid, Dambisa Moyo wrote: “…for an African woman, she is more concerned about having food on the table tonight than the possible threat to her freedom and democracy 40 years from now. China promises dinner today, education for her children tomorrow, and the infrastructure she can rely on for her livelihood for the foreseeable future”. This line also applies to Pacific island nations where sea levels are rising due to global warming, and where growing economies and raising islanders’ living standards are far more vital than great power antagonism and geopolitics. At this point, all South Pacific countries should band together as a whole community with a shared future for mankind. In Samoa, there is a proverb that goes, E le tu fa’amauga se tagata, which suggests that no one is an isolated island and that it is more essential to collaborate for a win-win situation. Beyond the geopolitical trap, maintaining an open mind, upgrading infrastructure, increasing national literacy, and developing industries and marketplaces are far more prudent ways for island states to sustainably flourish.