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China, Pacific islands fail to reach consensus on security pact

China, Pacific islands fail to reach consensus on security pact

Despite worries that the proposal could “threaten regional stability,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and counterparts from ten Pacific Island governments failed to achieve an agreement during discussions on a broad security and commerce agreement.

Following the virtual meetings on Monday, Wang, who was in Fiji, sought to reassure Pacific states about China’s intentions in the region, noting that Beijing has traditionally supported developing countries in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean.

“Don’t be overly anxious or nervous,” he said. “Because the common development and prosperity of China and all other emerging countries will only lead to greater world harmony, fairness, and progress.”

The visit to Fiji by China’s top diplomat is part of a diplomatic trip aimed at dramatically enhancing China’s participation in the South Pacific’s security, economy, and politics.

China sought to train local police, become involved in cybersecurity, expand political ties, conduct sensitive marine mapping, and gain greater access to natural resources on land and in the water, according to a draft communique and five-year action plan sent to the invited nations ahead of the meeting.

Following that, Wang and Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama gave an unusual news conference, speaking for almost 30 minutes before quickly leaving the stage as reporters sought to yell out questions. Many aspects of what happened at the meeting were kept under wraps as a result. However, it was evident that the countries did not support China’s plan.

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“As always, throughout any discussion on new regional agreements, we put consensus first among our countries,” Bainimarama added.

“To anyone whose neighborhood is slipping beneath the rising waters, whose employment is being lost to the epidemic, or whose family is being damaged by the quick rise in commodity prices, geopolitical point-scoring matters little than nothing.”

A free trade zone and support for climate change and health action are also envisaged in the proposed China-Pacific Island Countries Common Development Vision.

According to a letter leaked this week, the draft statement sparked objections from at least one of the invited nations, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM).

FSM President David Panuelo described it as “the single most game-changing proposed deal in any of our lives” that “threatens to usher in a new Cold War era at best, and a World War at worst.”

According to Benjamin Herscovitch of Australian National University, this is likely not the last time Beijing would bring up a planned contract between Beijing and Pacific Island governments.

“To secure this kind of accord, China is expected to step up its diplomatic, commercial, economic, logistical, and people-to-people efforts,” he said.

In comparison to the South China Sea and Southeast Asia, according to Herscovitch, the South Pacific is not the main area of geostrategic concern for China. “However, the fact that China is investing in this region demonstrates Beijing’s global ambitions,” he said.

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‘Geopolitical point scoring’

Wang said the nations had agreed on five areas of cooperation at Monday’s summit in Fiji, which included Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, and Niue, but that more conversations were needed to build more consensus.

Economic recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as new agriculture and disaster centers, were among the five topics he mentioned, although security was not among them.

“China will issue its own position paper on our own stances and propositions, as well as cooperation suggestions with Pacific island countries,” he told reporters. “We will continue to have continuing and in-depth conversations and consultations to build greater consensus on collaboration.”

Qian Bo, China’s ambassador to Fiji, responded to queries after Wang’s briefing by saying that participants had pledged to review the draft communique and the five-year plan “until we have reached an agreement.”

“The ten countries with which we have diplomatic relations have expressed general support, although there are some reservations about specific topics.”

Smaller deals

While China’s intentions for a large multilateral agreement may have fallen through, it has been signing smaller bilateral agreements with Pacific governments every day of Wang’s journey.

On Thursday, the Chinese foreign minister began his tour in the Solomon Islands, where he inked a civil aviation agreement. The two countries had already signed a security agreement, which Australia and the US feared might lead to a Chinese military presence in the region.

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Wang paid a visit to Kiribati on Friday, where a vital fishing ground the size of California is at risk. Kiribati’s government later announced that the two countries had signed ten agreements ranging from economic cooperation to the construction of a specific bridge.

Wang also inked an agreement to create a police fingerprint laboratory in Samoa on Saturday, in addition to a China-funded police training academy.

On Tuesday, the Chinese foreign minister will go to Tonga, a small island nation in the South Pacific, for a two-day visit.

He will then travel to Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, and East Timor.

Robert Bohn Sikol, a former Vanuatu senator, said it’s impossible to predict how successful China will be in increasing its influence because Pacific island states are accustomed to being courted by larger powers.

“The countries of the South Pacific know how to play the aid game. “Chinese money will be welcomed,” Bohn Sikol told Dailion, “but the South Pacific countries do not always stay bought.” “It will take more than one visit to persuade people to change their beliefs.”

“The West needs to be concerned, but not panicked,” he continued.

China’s President Xi Jinping said in a written speech to the summit that no matter how the international situation evolves, China would always be a good ally of Pacific Island countries, according to China’s state-owned CCTV.


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