The “South Pacific Way”: A New Model of Global Governance?
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By Bo Yuan Chang

The “South Pacific Way”: A New Model of Global Governance?

Oct. 02, 2017  |     |  0 comments

Australia and New Zealand — the two largest powers in South Pacific — may, and should, continue to lend their support to freedom and democracy in international relations. However, the Australia-New Zealand duo should not aspire to establish themselves as regional hegemons or join the ranks of the world’s great powers — such as the United States — because if they could distinguish themselves from the desires of other Western powers to “democratize” (Westernize) the world, while holding firmly onto the principle of non-intervention in sovereign affairs, this pair of South Pacific country may hold potential to offer an alternative pathway to realpolitik in international relations (like the current Sino-US geopolitical rivalry) — a model of global governance which valorizes democracy, but free from the intention to establish hegemony.


For one, the concept of democracy is not resented by the peoples of the developing world. At the heart of the developing nations’ refusal of liberal democracy was the history of colonialism initiated from the West which forced the least developed nations to accept the West’s universal worldviews and governance approaches. Indeed, the essence of democracy — the capacity to enhance the transparency of governance and accountability of leaders — should not be denied or distorted.


However, the West is seemingly eager to protect its interests by promoting the spread of liberal democracy across the globe. Hence, it faces a tough opponent, China, which is determined to capitalize on the nationalistic sentiments of developing countries by highlighting the destructiveness of Western-led humanitarian interventions such as the Anglo-American intervention in Iraq and presently in Syria.


Hence, if Australia and New Zealand endorsed freedom and democracy but kept themselves at arm’s length from Western-led military interventions, their reputation in the developing world is likely to grow vis-à-vis other Western powers, especially given both Australia and New Zealand are not preoccupied with the history of colonialism.


In fact, the paramount desire of developing nations like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) states is arguably to protect their sovereignty and to jointly create a region free from interventions from outside powers. This can be seen in ASEAN’s Zone of Peace, Friendship and Neutrality (ZOPFAN) concept.


Hence, it doesn’t matter what discourse Beijing uses to expose the shortfalls of Western liberal democracy. This is because the key factor which fuels China’s rising popularity in the developing world is the geopolitical imbalance produced by the West’s global preeminence, which has hindered developing countries’ opportunities to shape their own national outlooks and identities.

The potential of the New Zealand-Australia dyad — the making of a possible, new model for global governance distinguished by the true spirit of democracy: the respecting of other nations’ right to self-determination — should not be underestimated.

In fact, it should not be forgotten that China’s authoritarian governance model (termed “socialism with Chinese characteristics”) would not necessarily be suitable for other nations. This is because China is still largely homogeneous. In an ethnically diverse region like Southeast Asia, an authoritarian governance model which upholds a single language, religion, or a monolithic national ideology might be unsuitable. This is quite well illustrated in the cases of countries whose leaders were determined to push the interests of a single race, religion, or national ideology, resulting in lingering inter-ethnic frictions.


With the relative decline of the West and political uncertainty in the Asia-Pacific, Australia and New Zealand might hold potential to “freshen up” the realist norm of great power politicking in international relations by illustrating a model for global governance which promotes democracy and cultural diversity which is free from hegemonic interests. In fact, the hidden strength of both New Zealand and Australia could be their potential to exemplify international relations with the “South Pacific Way” — a mode of global governance distinguished by the merging of democracy and the norm of non-intervention in sovereign affairs: both are democracies which have little-to-no direct involvement in regional conflicts.


Therefore, contrary to Kipling’s proverb “East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,” the “South Pacific Way” might demonstrate otherwise — the potential for Western norms (democracy) to be merged with Asian norms (non-interference in sovereign affairs), in the pursuit of global governance.


The “South Pacific Way” would probably suit the needs and reality of Southeast Asia as well, as ASEAN — Southeast Asia’s only regional organization — too was modeled over the combination of democracy and non-interference in sovereign matters: this is the “ASEAN Way,” its principle of resolving intramural conflicts through consensus and consultation.


In a recent article, I suggested that with the shift of power from west to east, it might be possible to observe a world order characterized by an Asian yin-yang (non-confrontational) dialectical framework, as opposed to the Hegelian (confrontational) dialectical framework common to the West’s balance-of-power approach in international relations. If the merging of Eastern and Western norms is a slow and difficult process — given the vast gap between the two sets of worldviews and lingering Sino-US geopolitical rivalry — then perhaps it is time for a conciliation of Asian (non-interference in sovereign affairs) and Pacific norms (democracy without hegemonic aspirations, demonstrated by the Australia-New Zealand dyad) to nurture a common identity pertaining to the Asia-Pacific.


With the West still embroiled in geopolitical conflicts, and the Chinese Dragon’s rise arousing much uncertainty around its periphery, the potential of the New Zealand-Australia dyad — the making of a possible, new model for global governance distinguished by the true spirit of democracy: the respecting of other nations’ right to self-determination — should not be underestimated.




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