Symposium: The China Alternative - Changing Regional Order in the Pacific

Event details


Date & time

Friday 08 February 2019


The University of South Pacific Emalus Campus Port Vila, Shefa Province Vanuatu


Various Speakers



China’s assertive presence in Oceania has provided alternative opportunities for Pacific Island governments, is welcomed with cautious optimism by observers, and has raised concerns, especially for the metropolitan powers that have long dominated the region.

Pacific Island governments now engage with China through diplomatic partnerships, trade, aid, investments, infrastructure developments, and commerce. Beijing has posed itself as an alternative power, which is changing the regional order.

This one-day symposium will address the nature and dynamics of China–Pacific Islands relationships, encounters between Chinese citizens and Pacific Islanders, soft-power diplomacy through training programs, and Chinese assistance, especially its concessional loans.

The symposium is co-sponsored by the Australian National University’s Department of Pacific Islands Affairs (DPA), the University of Hawai‘i’s Center for Pacific Islands Studies (CPIS), and the University of the South Pacific’s School of Law.


9:00 am - Welcome

  • Prof. Eric Colvin, Head of School (School of Law, University of the South Pacific)
  • James Batley (Australian National University)

9:15–10:00 am - Keynote Addresses

Introductions: Prof. Terence Wesley-Smith (University of Hawaii) - Hon. Ralph Regenvanu (Minister for Foreign Affairs, Vanuatu (video)) - Dame Meg Taylor (Secretary General, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat)

10:00–10:15 am - Coffee Break

10:15–11:15 am - Panel 1: China & the Pacific Islands: an Overview

This panel will provide an overview of the histories, nature and dynamics of the relationships between China and the Pacific Islands. Chair: Prof. Tarcisius Kabutaulaka (University of Hawaii) Panelists: - Nic Maclellan (Journalist & Researcher, Melbourne, Australia) - Dr. Denghua Zhang (Australian National University) - Dr. Iati Iati (Victoria University of Wellington)

11:15–12:15 am - Panel 2: Chinese and Pacific Islander Encounters

At forefront of China’s presence in the Pacific Islands are Chinese citizens. They include tourists, investors, government officials, etc. The encounter between Chinese and Pacific Islanders has not always been a good experience. This panel will identify and discuss the nature and dynamic of the encounters between Chinese and Pacific Islanders. Chair: Dr. Amton Mwaraksurmes (University of the South Pacific) Panelists: - Dr. Graeme Smith (Australian National University) - Henryk Szadziewski (University of Hawaiʻi) - Patrick Matbob (Divine Word University)

12:15–1:00 noon - Lunch

1:00–2:00 pm Panel 3: Professional Trainings in China: Vanuatu experiences In the past decade, more Pacific Islanders have gone to China for education and professional training. This panel focuses on Vanuatu’s experience and feature Ni-Vanuatu who have gone to China for education and professional training. Chair: Dr. Greg Nimbtik (Vanuatu Government) Panelists: - Dr. Rebecca Bogiri (Vanuatu Government Official) - Morris Seule (Vanuatu Police Inspector) - Bollan Manwo (Vanuatu athlete)

2:00–3:00 pm - Panel 4: Chinese Assistance and Loans

Chinese assistance to Pacific Island countries has increased over the years. Most of it is in the form of concessional loans. This panel will discuss the nature and impacts of Chinese assistance, especially concessional loans, on Pacific Island countries and those that have an interest in the region. Chair: Dr. Joseph Foukona (University of the South Pacific) Panelists: - Mr. John Robert Simelum (Vanuatu Ministry of Finance) - Dr. Meriden Varrall (Lowy Institute) - Dan McGarry (Vanuatu Daily Post)

3:00–3:30 pm - Closing Remarks

This panel will provide closing remarks that will summary and frame the issues discussed during the day. - Dr. Cathryn Clayton (University of Hawaiʻi) - James Batley (Australian National University) - Dr. Transform Aqorau (Private researcher)

3:30 pm - Kava

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