STILL PREOCCUPIED with the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the U.S. government risks overlooking important developments in peripheral regions. One such development is the growing role of China in Oceania--a vast Pacific Ocean area that covers nearly a third of the globe. Oceania includes 14 independent island states and related territories that, along with Australia and New Zealand, make up the Pacific Islands Forum, the main regional body. Since the Cold War's end, as the United States has downgraded its involvement in Oceania, China has increased its own investment. In an evolving relationship between the mighty and the micro states of the world, this shift of great power valence may bear important long-term consequences for the changing balance of international security.
DURING THE Cold War, the United States engaged the Pacific island nations through a policy of "strategic denial" aimed at thwarting Soviet efforts to establish a regional naval presence. But in the post-Cold War period, U.S. links to the region have been significantly downgraded. This has been accompanied by the departure of former colonial powers like Britain, and an increasing focus on Asia at the expense of the Pacific by regional allies such as Australia and New Zealand. Japan has become the region's largest aid donor, South Korea is showing increasing interest in the region, and Taiwan effectively "buys" diplomatic recognition from some of the smallest island states. But most significant by far among these new players is China.