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‘Pan-Pacific’ Echoes: The Past, Present and Future of a Sub-Global Imaginary

Authors: Sean Phillips*, University of Oxford
Topics: Historical Geography, Pacific Rim, Asia
Keywords: Regionalism, History, Geopolitics, Spatiality, Asia-Pacific, Pacific, North America, Hawaii, Australasia, East Asia
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Whilst forecasters continue to envisage ‘Pacific’ centuries and ‘Indo-Pacific’ strategies take shape, notions of the ‘Pan-Pacific’ have slipped from the lexicon of political geography. This paper contextualises the ‘Pan-Pacific’, considering the spatial and thematic saliency of this macro-geographical formulation in contemporary politics.

Drawing upon archival research in Australasia and North America (including Hawai’i), the paper explores the Pan-Pacific idea which emerged amidst a forecasting culture which placed the ‘Pacific’ at an emergent world centre (commercially and geopolitically) by the early twentieth century amidst broader pan-regional thinking. Entailing a terraqueous spatial imaginary (continental and oceanic) and encompassing a sub-global region now referred to as the Asia-Pacific, combined with a future-orientated ideology, this paper examines the Pan-Pacific’s unique features, yet also considers its inter-relation with similar pan-regional thought.

It compares the Honolulu-based Pan-Pacific Union which drew inspiration from Pan-American boosterism and whose legacy lives on today through the Pacific Science Association with a China-based Pan-Pacific Trade Union Secretariat, whose affiliation with the Communist International and anti-imperial rubric could readily link to Pan-Asianism.

It concludes by considering the trans-temporality of the Pan-Pacific: how the language, membership and aims of these formative regional organisations – both which emerged in the 1920s – map onto contemporary regional politics. In doing so, it makes a significant historiographical intervention, relying not solely upon one institutional study to elucidate Pan-Pacific dynamics and by exploring the continued significance of such thought in contemporary practice and inspiration if no longer by name.

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