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Countering Unwelcome Strategic Competitors in the South Pacific
The Indo-Pacific concept has become more prominent in Australian strategic thinking, but the embrace of the term in declaratory policy has not been matched operationally. This mismatch is clearly evidenced in the unbalanced approach to the island states of the Indian Ocean and Pacific. The island states of the South Pacific remain a central focus of Australian foreign and defence policies, with increased concerns over geostrategic competition attracting greater attention than issues in the Indian Ocean. Underlying factors, such as Australia’s unique strategic culture, explain this continuity in Australian foreign policy and the slow shift to a truly Indo-Pacific outlook. The persistence of highlevel threat perceptions and a habitual strategy of denial against unwelcome strategic competitors are evidenced in Canberra’s responses to China’s attempts to negotiate basing agreements in the South Pacific. This highlights that the thrust of Australian foreign policy is unlikely to radically shift to the Indian Ocean in the medium term.