What we Have (and Have not) Learned from Early Research on China’s Engagement in the Pacific





China, Pacific Island Countries, Development Assistance, Foreign Aid, Belt and Road


Culling a selective yet representative set of works on China’s growing presence in Pacific Island countries (PICs), this essay reviews and critically assesses early contributions to the field. To date, these contributions been motivated by two primary goals: a) gathering high-quality descriptive data on precisely what China does in individual PICs, in what amounts projects are funded, and by which actors projects are designed, negotiated, and carried out, and b) attempts to theorise China’s motivations for providing such aid and investment. However, we also find that research on the way local actors shape and influence Chinese engagement, and how China adapts to local norms and behaviours, is thin at best, as are appraisals of the impacts of Chinese aid at the local and national levels more broadly. We conclude that these extant gaps comprise an agenda for further empirical research, and that filling them necessitates attention to Pacific experiences of Chinese aid at the micro, meso, and macro levels.

Author Biographies

Steve Noakes, Waipapa Taumata Rau University of Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand

Dr Noakes is Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, and Director of the China Studies Centre at UoA. His research has appeared in journals such China Quarterly, Pacific Affairs, Voluntas, Journal of Chinese Political Science, Problems of Postcommunism, Political Science Quarterly, and elsewhere. He is also the author of The Advocacy Trap: Transnational Activism and State Power in China (Manchester University Press, 2017), a regular commentator on China's role in international affairs, and a frequent advisor to the aid community on governance issues in the PRC. Prior to joining the University of Auckland, he was a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, and a Visiting Research Scholar at Fudan University’s School of International Relations and Public Affairs in Shanghai. He was NZ-China Fellow at Peking University in 2018, and is the recipient of a Taiwan Foundation grant, which he will take up in July 2019 at National Taiwan University. Dr Noakes also offers a range of private consulting services, with particular expertise in human rights and criminal law in China, as well as China's foreign aid programme, and the Belt and Road Initiative. Interested parties should get in touch with him directly.

Anna Powles, Massey University, Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa, Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand

Dr Anna Powles is a Senior Lecturer with the Centre of Defence and Security Studies at Massey University. Her research focusses on geopolitics, security and conflict in the Pacific Islands region and is the investigator on several projects examining security dynamics in the Pacific. She is a Non-Resident Fellow at the National Bureau for Asian Research (2022-2026) and an Associate Scholar with the MacMillan Brown Center for Pacific Studies, University of Canterbury. She was a visiting scholar at the East-West Center in 2019; and is an alumni of the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu. She holds a PhD from the Australian National University.



How to Cite

Noakes, S., & Powles, A. (2022). What we Have (and Have not) Learned from Early Research on China’s Engagement in the Pacific. Ekistics and The New Habitat, 81(3), 41–46. https://doi.org/10.53910/26531313-E2021813561