Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Managing Growing Strategic Competition In The South Pacific: Hedging The Pacific Way

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posted on 2024-02-27, 02:10 authored by Bali, Ashika

United States (U.S.)-China strategic competition in the Pacific has intensified along with China’s growing engagement with Pacific Island countries. The expanding body of literature on this topic focuses heavily on the geopolitical implications for traditional powers, in particular the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, with less attention on Pacific responses. This thesis helps address this gap with a focus on how the Pacific Island countries are managing growing strategic competition and analysis of Pacific policies and strategies towards China and traditional Western partners. It asks whether Pacific countries are seeking to balance against, adopt a middle position or ally with China, how traditional Western partners factor into this equation and what the driving forces behind Pacific responses and approaches to growing strategic competition are. It goes beyond the dichotomous debate between balancing and bandwagoning to explore mixed strategies like hedging and non-alignment and employs a mixed method approach across case studies on Pacific regionalism, Fiji, Samoa and Kiribati. The thesis finds that each case shares four basic features: a coherent diplomatic strategy and engagement policy toward China and traditional Western partners; a priority for internal development needs and security concerns; a focus on development aid and economic benefits; and an approach that seeks to maximise the benefits of engagement. The findings demonstrate that these Pacific Island countries are not choosing between China and the U.S. (or by extension their traditional Western partners Australia and New Zealand). Rather, they are exhibiting "hedging" and “non-alignment” behaviour and are expressing their preference for maintaining relatively autonomous foreign and security policies. This strategy is driven by regional needs (such as regional self-determination, climate change, ocean management, sustainable development and humanitarian assistance) and individual state needs (such as ensuring autonomy in their foreign policies and domestic development policies and interests). Across all cases, the thesis finds that Pacific leaders are not publicly concerned about having to choose sides and have largely rebuffed the “China threat” narrative. Instead, they are following the “Pacific Way” by stressing their own collective agency through narratives like the Blue Pacific, with emphasis on sovereignty and regional identity, and seeking to utilise relations with China to pursue their own interests.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

International Relations; Political Science

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 Pure basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Young, Jason