LOOKING NORTH, LOOKING SOUTH: China, Taiwan, and the South Pacific.

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LOOKING NORTH, LOOKING SOUTH: China, Taiwan, and the South Pacific.

Series on Contemporary China, v. 26. Editor, Anne-Marie Brady.

Singapore; Hackensack, NJ: World Scientific, 2010. xvi, 298 pp. (Tables, figures,maps.) US$94.00, cloth. ISBN 978-981-4304-38-2.

By Yuan-chao Tung, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan

China has been rising on the world stage as one of the major powers since the 1990s. This ascent, however, is also evident in Oceania, otherwise known as the Pacific Island region. Looking North, Looking South: China, Taiwan and the South Pacific, edited by Anne-Marie Brady, focuses on China as an emerging power in this part of the world and examines the changing sphere of influence of the United States, Australia and New Zealand, as China moves in.

In Oceania, Six Pacific Island countries recognize Taiwan diplomatically, contributing significantly to broadening Taiwan’s limited role in international affairs. Looking North, Looking South argues that China’s cross-Strait relations with Taiwan, as well as its global foreign policy, contribute to its increasing involvement in the Oceanic region as an aid donor, investor and trade partner. Ten providing authors differ in the prospective future role that China will play as its power grows. Will China remain self-restrained or maintain to keep its power balance with other players in the region?

Looking North, Looking South is organized into three parts: I. China and Taiwan’s South Pacific Rivalry; II. The Impact on Other Key Pacific Players; and III. Chinese Foreign Policy in the Pacific: Two Perspectives. These papers cover the motivations of Chinese involvement in Oceania (the Pacific Island region), the China-Taiwan rivalry, and balance of power among China, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. They largely touch on aid programs that are considered short-term, unpredictable and secretive, and the presence of growing Overseas Chinese communities. Various authors analyze a number of anti-Chinese incidences, highlighting the tension brought on by improper working conditions in Chinese investment projects, competition from the growing amount of Chinese businesses, and the siding of the Asian donors in local politics. While Hanson sees China as a stumbling donor without a grand plan in the region, as reflected by its aid programs, Saunders (subsuming the Pacific Islands under Asia), argues that China’s Asia strategy carefully reassures other Asian countries of its benign intentions. Meanwhile, Yang agrees that China has a grand foreign policy, but that the South Pacific plays a limited role compared to that of Africa and Latin America.

While most of the contributors in Looking North, Looking South come from the expertise of political science and international relations, Professor Ron Crocombe, author of the comprehensive 2007 volume, Asia in the Pacific Islands: Replacing the West (USP Press), is the only one who focuses on cultural commensurabilities, or “software” as he calls it. Different ideas about governance account for the tense relationship between the Oceanic states and their donor countries, especially Australia and New Zealand. China is blamed for not demanding the same degree of aid accountability as applied by Australia and New Zealand. In Oceanic societies, political alliances are primarily based on long-term relationships of reciprocal exchanges. An act of gift-giving, for example, obliges a return gift which subsequently initiates another cycle of gift-giving, and so forth. Gift-giving applies to every kind of relationship in this society. Whether one is of the bride’s family or the groom’s family, an urbanite or villager, a politician or electorate, everyone lives in this network of gift-giving. Similarly, Taiwanese and Chinese politicians also reflect a cultural inclination to relatedness by maintaining seemingly personal ties with their Oceanic counterparts. Crocombe takes the local point of view of political favouritism into consideration instead of simply labeling it as corruption.

China’s growing presence in the Oceanic states can also be felt through the increasing number of Chinese migrants in the region. In their respective chapters, To and co-authors Brady and Henderson employ an over-generalized definition of Overseas Chinese (OC) to include both established islanders of Chinese ancestry and recent Chinese arrivals since the 1990s. Passport sales, suspicious legal documents and illegal activities, even organized crime engaged by some recent migrants, all create a biased portrayal of island citizens of Chinese ancestry. To, in particular, calls attention to the heterogeneous nature of these populations, yet he assures the reader that “the OC have in general maintained their cultural identity,” a conclusion which he draws from David Wu’s work conducted before the independence of Papua New Guinea in 1975. Ultimately, such a definition feels outdated, as its generality falsely imposes a commonality between those citizens of Chinese ancestry, who have integrated into local societies, and recent migrants who have maintained a transnational network. As a minority group, laoqiao, are usually sensitive to being regarded as one voting bloc. Taiwan and China provide external resources that enrich the quality of laoqiao’s island life.

With the “diplomatic truce” declared by Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-Jeou, Taiwan has continued to cultivate its relationships with Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. These Oceanic countries maintain formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan and strive to develop friendly connections with other nations. The current Kuomintang government continues to nurture the discourse started by the previous Democratic Progressive Party-led government, one that stresses an Austronesian heritage shared by Taiwan and most Oceanic peoples. This summer, for example, Taiwan’s Council of Indigenous Affairs will sponsor cultural exchange trips to Fiji for Austronesian-speaking Taiwanese university students.

Finally, it is surprising that Looking North, Looking South uses the term South Pacific so freely. Epeli Ha’uofa, a renowned scholar and writer at the University of South Pacific, had advocated using the word Oceania instead. Oceania, he argues, conveys a local island view of the region based on an inclusive sea rather than a continent, and is thus a better term than the Pacific Island region or the South Pacific, an archaic term from World War II. Brady says in the preface that close attention to Asia’s and China’s emergence in Oceania is long overdue. Though falling short on occasion, Looking North, Looking South’s provides a diverse and in-depth look into this fast changing part of the world.

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