School of Social Sciences


April, 03, 2008 10:58 Age: 10 yrs

Dr. Sandra Tarte presents paper at "China in Oceania" conference

Category: SSS News

The conference was held at the Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU) in Beppu, Japan from the 26th to the 27th March, 2007.

Dr. Tarte, second from right, sitting row with other participants at the conference

he Center for Pacific Islands Studies (CPIS), University of Hawai’i at Manoa invited Dr. Tarte to present a paper on the subject of Fiji-China relations at the 'China in Oceania: Towards a new regional order?’ conference. The event was jointly sponsored by the Institute of Strategic Studies at Ritsumeikan APU and the CPIS.

The context of the conference is the growing interest in and debate (in media, academic and Government circles) about the emerging role of China in the Pacific islands region. China’s so-called ‘new assertiveness’ is viewed by many observers as heralding a major shift in the regional balance of power – perhaps more significant than any since the arrival of European colonialism two centuries ago.

Despite the prominence of this debate in recent years, research on China’s policies towards the Pacific and its relations with the island states remains limited. The purpose of this conference was to bring together ‘China experts’ – those who specialize in China’s foreign policy – and Pacific island experts, in order to encourage collaborative research and dialogue on this important regional development.

Papers were presented on China’s policies towards the region, as viewed from a global perspective, and their impact on ‘regional order’. There were also a number of papers on specific bilateral relationships (namely China’s relations with Fiji, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Tonga). There was much discussion about the so-called ‘threat discourse’ which has presented China’s role in the Pacific in mostly negative terms. In general the conference papers challenged a number of these claims, and also questioned the assertions made about China’s strategic ambitions and influence in the region.

Dr. Tarte's paper examined recent trends in Fiji’s relations with China. Although the two countries appear to be much closer than they used to be, this is mainly due to high profile diplomatic initiatives in the last six years. While China provides an opportunity for Fiji to diversify its international relations, there remain a number of obstacles to the development of a strong bilateral partnership. These include Fiji’s ‘unofficial’ ties with Taiwan, as well as the limited contributions of China to Fiji’s economic development. Thus, while the political and diplomatic framework supporting closer ties exists, the substance to this relationship has yet to materialize.

A unique feature of this conference was the way it brought together established academics and researchers on the one hand and graduate students from the Pacific and Japan on the other. The papers from this conference are due to be published by Ritsumeikan APU as the first in a series on Asia Pacific Studies.

Dr. tarte wishes to acknowledge the Center for Pacific Island Studies, University of Hawai’i at Manoa for supporting her attendance at this Conference.

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