The Cook Islands finance minister, Mark Brown, says the Pacific is no longer anybody's 'backyard'.
Mark Brown is in Samoa as a keynote speaker at a forum on China's presence in the region, to discuss the region's first tripartite agreement - the China, New Zealand, Cook Islands water infrastructure project.
The arrangement was initiated by the Cook Islands whereby China agreed to partner with a third party, instead of the usual case of going directly to a donor country.
He told Matariki FM that the Cook Islands are calling the shots.
"It's an area of global competitiveness in terms of the fisheries access that we have. Those sorts of old alliances don't work anymore in terms of the way that Pacific countries want to progress themselves. We're taking a leading role in this and our traditional partners are almost supporting actors."
Mark Brown says the agreement is being looked at around the world to see if it's a model that could work for engaging China on a more multi-lateral basis.