Is Hegemony in the South Pacific possible?
Hegemony is a concept associated with ‘superordinate’ powers equated to a sovereign state that has amassed great wealth and prowess. It is instrumental in developing institutions and defines the ‘rules of the game’. This paper explores the theory, that to be a hegemon in the region, a super-powerful state requires more than controlling inherent material capabilities. The rule of force and ideological thinking are now inadequate to keep a super state as the dominant or hegemonic power. There are distinct shifts of power dynamics from a realist perspective which includes John Mearsheimer’s “hard” and “latent power” to Evelyn Goh’s ideational thinking and the “cultural and social” components. China-US feature strongly in this paper. It will explore if hegemony is possible in the South Pacific Region (SPR). The region covers a large blue ocean space that has a number of small Pacific Island sovereign states and New Zealand and Australia. Geographically, the region has three distinct sub-regions namely, Melanesia, Polynesia, Micronesia. It is within these sub-region that ‘ordering’ of states occur with New Zealand, Australia and Papua New Guinea occupying larger landmasses and having bigger populations than the smaller island states. The emergence of China with its foreign policy interests, ‘soft power’ and blue ocean naval strategy into the SPR has attracted attention from the traditional powers inside and outside the region. In response, US, a superpower identified as the hegemon in the Pacific region, post colonization era during the 20th and the early 21st century, earning its name as ‘Pacific Theatre or The American Lake’, is re-adjusting its strategy to counter China’s interest. An analysis based on the ranking table with specific parameters will assist in determining which of the powers, in this instance, US and China will occupy the top of the rank. Even so it may not be adequate to claim hegemonic status in the region. This paper agrees that ‘hegemony’ is specific to the region of its interest. Power is measured in terms of its relative gains. The primary criteria in the ranking table will measure Aid given by donor countries to Pacific Islands. Although New Zealand and Australia are within the region they are ranked as donor states rather than recipients like island states in the sub-region.