IF you are of the opinion that the Pacific stands on the threshold of major change, I agree with you. As the Covid era draws to a close, the next few years will bring changes that will affect the next several generations of islanders. Let us consider some of the major topics on the table.
• Duterte’s closing days. As President Rodrigo Duterte’s term comes to an end in the Philippines, we can begin to assess his accomplishments. His premier domestic legacy will unquestionably be the war on drugs, while diplomacy with China will be his lasting foreign endeavor. Duterte began his administration with a hard line against the Chinese, declaring that the United Nations ruling on the status of the South China Sea was binding, then reversed tack and said the court’s decision was a useless piece of paper. Now, with little to show for his friendly overtures toward China, Duterte seems to be moving back toward his original position. His successor will have to decide what direction to take with the superpower and try to restore some stability.
• China’s increasing importance. China is here to stay so ignoring it is neither realistic nor fair, neither is constant conflict. Chinese regional power must be acknowledged and accommodated, especially if the Pacific family wants peace. China has demonstrated its willingness to take what it wants from its neighbors so why not give them more constructive alternatives?
• United States under Biden Administration. Although the liberal media does not acknowledge it, Biden’s approach to Pacific security thus far is largely an extension of the previous administration. Trump took a hard line against Chinese expansion and expected them to live up to U.N, resolutions regarding the South China Sea. Biden has signaled the same. How long this will continue is anyone’s guess, but the relationship between the United States and China is the preeminent issue of the near future. Whether the current strife is remembered as a temporary event or the beginning of a new Cold War will be determined over the next few years. Besides the South China Sea, Taiwan looms as the other likely trigger of open conflict.
• Myanmar’s Civil War. So far, the world has barely noticed the brutal war in Myanmar, formerly Burma. Whether the military rule solidifies its hold or pro-democracy forces rebound, the region will suffer the effects for years to come. There was a time when Burma stood as a shining example of a successful democracy in a neighborhood of dictatorships and self-serving juntas. Now its future is gloomy.
• Australia’s desire to re-assert itself. Australia vacillates between wanting to be a regional leader and wanting to follow the lead of others. At the heart of the indecision are financial considerations. Being a regional power costs money and the Australians are not sure if they want to bear the burden. Canberra is trying to bring attention to the Myanmar crisis but so far not many are listening. They are also trying to reposition themselves vis-à-vis China, with Taiwan being the key.
BC Cook, PhD lived on Saipan and has taught history for 20 years. He currently resides on the mainland U.S.