Beijing’s plan for security pact with 10 Pacific Island Countries falls flat

International

Beijing’s plan to bring 10 Pacific Island Countries into China’s orbit through a wide-ranging security pact has been rebuffed by these smaller nation states.

 The plan was to have these Pacific nations endorse a sweeping new agreement, to bring under Chinese control everything from security to fisheries in these countries.

 Foreign Minister of China Wang Yi went to Fiji in the last week of May 2022 to co-host a key meeting with the foreign ministers of these 10 island nations. Beijing’s plan fell flat, however, as some of these countries in this region expressed deep concern with the proposal to be a part of the Chinese orbit. In fact, the differences of these Pacific group countries with China came out in the open at a joint news conference by Wang and Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama. The two leaders spoke for about 30 minutes and then both abruptly left the news conference in a huff as reporters tried to shout out questions.

 An unbiased organization like Reporters Without Borders was critical of the high-handed attitude of the Foreign Minister of China in dealing with the media during his 10-day tour of Pacific Island Countries. Wang Yi imposed a total media blackout on events, Reporters Without Border commented. The news conference in Fiji was practically run by the Chinese government. The Press passes were issued by the Chinese government, not by the host the government of Fiji. In the course of his tour, Wang Yi allowed only a reporter from the official Chinese media to ask questions. An accredited Australian television channel was prevented from filming a meeting in which Wang Yi was present.

 “The total opacity surrounding the events organized by the Chinese delegation with several Pacific Island states clearly contravenes the democratic principles of the region’s countries,” commented Reporters Without Borders. “We call on officials preparing to meet Wang Yi to resist Chinese pressure by allowing local journalists and international organizations to cover these events, which are of major public interest.”

 It was evident, in any case, that the Pacific group countries had not endorsed China’s plan. “As always, we put consensus first among our countries throughout any discussion on new regional agreements,” The Prime Minister of Fiji said. Concern is growing among these nations, too, about Beijing’s military and financial ambitions. The proposed pact would have seen Beijing train the police in these Pacific Island Countries, become involved in their cybersecurity, expand political ties, conduct sensitive marine mapping and gain greater access to natural resources on land and in the water under the command of these countries. As an enticement, Beijing offered financial assistance and the possibility of a China – Pacific Islands free trade agreement, offering these small countries access to the Chinese market.

 Leaders of the Pacific nations, however, have voiced deep misgivings about the offer. President of the Federated States of Micronesia David Panuelo, in a letter to his fellow leaders, has warned that the offer is “disingenuous” and would “ensure Chinese influence in government” and allow China “economic control” of key industries. China has been informed that the leaders of the Pacific Island Countries could not agree to Beijing’s proposed “Common Development Vision” due to lack of regional consensus. “As always, we put consensus first,” Prime Minister of Fiji Frank Bainimarama commented after the meeting with Foreign Minister of China Wang Yi in Suva.

 Among the Pacific Island countries, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Federated States of Micronesia have reservations about the Chinese proposal, together with Palau which, in any case, was not invited by Beijing to the meeting in Suva as Palau has recognized Taiwan. AFP has quoted Foreign Minister of Papua New Guinea Soroi Eoe saying: “We would rather deal with our own security issues with China,” indicating concern about a trans-region pact. After the meeting in Suva with leaders of the 10 Pacific Island countries, Chinese officials had to admit that their entreaties had fallen short.

 The concern of the Pacific Island Countries about Chinese intentions started with Beijing signing a security pact with Solomon Islands in April 2022. The draft agreement focuses on China boosting the national security capacity of Solomon Islands. It also includes cooperation on humanitarian assistance, disaster response and efforts to maintain social order. One of the crucial clauses of the agreement says that China can “make ship visits to, carry out logistical replacements in, and have stopover and transition in Solomon Islands” and also send Chinese forces to the country to “protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects.” The cause of concern is that China can send troops to the Solomon Islands and establish a permanent military base there, less than 2,000 kms from Australia.

 China insists that its proposals are meant to ensure regional stability and enhance economic growth, but experts fear these are really an attempt to extend its influence in a strategically critical area. President of Micronesia David Panuelo has warned other leaders in the Pacific Island group of countries against signing such an agreement with China, saying it was a rather brazen attempt to increase Chinese influence in a strategically critical area. It threatens to bring to the doorsteps of the Pacific Island Countries a cold war that may finally lead to a world war. By signing such an agreement with Beijing, the Pacific Island Countries would compromise their sovereignty. There is every chance that China would get into conflict with Australia, Japan, the United States and New Zealand if it decides to invade Taiwan.

 Interestingly, Beijing has targeted to bring under the ambit of the security pact Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, the Cook Islands, Niue and Micronesia; but has pointedly left out Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau and Tuvalu, all of which recognize Taiwan as a country.

 Analysts say the Pacific Island Countries would be strategically important to China, should it invade Taiwan. From a military point of view, a Chinese presence in some of these Pacific Island Countries would mean a better ability to delay U. S. naval assets and disrupt supply lines in case of a conflict. Senior fellow at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in Singapore Euan Graham has been quoted as saying: “You only have to look at a map to deduce the basic logic of what China is up to. If you connect these islands, it is an island chain that runs between Australia and the United States, between Australia and Japan.

 The other view is that the security pact between China and Solomon Islands has been driven by Beijing’s sense of vulnerability in the region rather than by a Chinese grand strategy. The Pacific Island region is an important component of the Belt and Road Initiative of China that can potentially enmesh these small nations in a debt trap. By 2021, China has signed BRI cooperation documents with all the 10 Pacific Island Countries with which it has signed diplomatic relations. Direct investments by China in the Pacific Island Countries rose from $900 million in 2013 to $4.5 billion in 2018. Chinese companies have invested more than $2 billion in Pacific mining, acquisition of gold deposits and other metal assets, over the past two decades. In 2019, Beijing promised $730 million in financial aid to Solomon Islands. The move triggered in Solomon Islands violent protests that killed four people and prompted Beijing to offer anti-riot gear and send a police team to equip and train Solomon Islands police. The possibility of civic unrest threatening projects funded by China has prompted Beijing to seek means to protect its overseas interests.

 In Kiribati, the future of a vast protected area in the ocean is already at stake because of Beijing’s greed. The Phoenix Island Protected Area is a stretch of the ocean of the size of California that has been named a World Heritage Site. Kiribati has already announced that the government has planned to end the commercial fishing ban that has been in place in the area and allow fishing, though in a sustainable form. On May 27, 2022, Foreign Minister of China Wang Yi visited Kiribati. It is expected that now there would be some agreement between China and Kiribati to commercially exploit this heritage site.

 Australia and New Zealand are now working in tandem in their policies towards the Pacific Island nations, to arrest the growth in China’s influence. What has caused concern in both Canberra and Wellington is that the agreement between China and Solomon Islands would bring Chinese naval vessels right on Australia’s doorstep.

 Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern has visited the newly elected Prime Minister of Australia Anthony Albanese. “We are lockstep on the Pacific. I look forward to working with Prime Minister Ardern, working with our democratic neighbours,” Albanese told reporters on June 10, 2022, after the visit of the Prime Minister of New Zealand. Albanese also had a meeting with U. S. President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Tokyo to discuss the threat to regional security posed by China.

Source : defferent agencies

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