How does the ‘Pacific’ fit into the ‘Indo-Pacific’? The changing geopolitics of the Pacific Islands

Inside of the Hedley Bull Building, ANU Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs.

In the 2013 Defence White Paper the Australian government identified its zone of strategic interest as the Indo-Pacific, which it described as ‘connecting the Indian and Pacific Oceans through Southeast Asia’. That formulation was repeated in the 2016 Defence and the 2017 Foreign Policy White Papers and is increasingly used by the US, India, Japan and Indonesia.

While academic and policy debate about the Indo-Pacific concept has been voluminous, the question of how the Pacific Islands fit into this strategic region has been overlooked.

This changed when Dame Meg Taylor, Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum, emphasised during her keynote address to the ANU State of the Pacific conference her concern about the ‘recasting of geostrategic competition and cooperation under the rubric of the ‘Indo-Pacific’’. A week earlier, Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi delivered a speech in which he highlighted the ‘real risk of privileging Indo over the Pacific’. Both were concerned that the Indo-Pacific formulation encourages external powers to overlook the particularities and interests of the Pacific Islands and to see the region primarily through the lens of geostrategic competition between major powers.

Pacific Islands’ leaders have responded by advancing the concept of the ‘Blue Pacific’. This formulation is intended to encourage Pacific Island states to act as a ‘Blue Continent’ based on their ‘shared stewardship of the Pacific Ocean’. Dame Meg Taylor has argued that this could see Pacific Island states ‘exercising stronger strategic autonomy’, ‘understanding…the strategic value of our region’ and ‘maintain[ing] our solidarity in the face of those who seek to divide us’.

Featuring speakers from Australia and across the Pacific Islands, this two-day workshop used the question of how the Pacific fits into the Indo-Pacific as a starting point to analyse the changing geopolitics of the Pacific Islands and their implications for both the region and Australia. It also asked whether the Blue Pacific concept has the potential to advance Pacific Islands’ regional cooperation in pursuit of their strategic interests.

The workshop was convened by Joanne Wallis, James Batley, and Anthony Bergin. It was presented by the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Department of Pacific Affairs, and National Security College, with additional funding from the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific Asia-Pacific Innovation Program.


  • Collin Beck (Solomon Islands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade)
  • Ewen McDonald (Head of the Office of the Pacific, DFAT)
  • Margaret Keen (ANU)
  • Tess Newton Cain (UQ)
  • Anna Powles (Massey University)
  • Patrick Kaiku (UPNG)
  • Fulori Manoa (University of the South Pacific)
  • Steve Ratuva (University of Canterbury)
  • Sandra Tarte (University of the South Pacific)
  • Bernard Yegiora (Divine Word)
  • Wesley Morgan (University of the South Pacific)
  • Richard Balkonan Olul (Department of Foreign Affairs, Vanuatu)
  • George Carter (ANU)

and more ...