From a sleepy backwater, the South Pacific has been catapulted into the diplomatic limelight, with the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in the Cook Islands playing host not just to Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, but to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a large delegation from China. All of a sudden, the Pacific island states -- a mere scattering of specks in a vast blue ocean -- are at centre stage.

This Pacific Islands Forum is critical for Australia’s recalibration of its various regional relationships, which from time to time wander off course. Usually, this matters little to Australia, given the somewhat marginal economic and security flow tends to go out rather than in.