China’s top diplomat is in Fiji for talks with 10 Pacific nations to discuss strengthening security and economic ties.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is in Fiji for talks with the foreign ministers of 10 Pacific island nations as part of a diplomatic visit that has drawn deep Western concern.
Monday’s meeting will discuss proposals by Beijing to radically increase its security, economic and political engagement in the South Pacific.
With borders across the region closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most foreign ministers attended the Fiji meeting via video link. In several Pacific countries, the foreign minister is also the prime minister.
Ahead of Monday’s meeting, Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a message that China would become a “good brother” in the region and they had a “common destiny,” according to CCTV.
On the table is a classified agreement – obtained by AFP and Reuters news agencies – that China will train local police, engage in cybersecurity, expand political ties, conduct sensitive ocean mapping and gain access to more land and marine natural resources. water. As a lure, Beijing offers millions of dollars in financial aid, the prospect of a China-Pacific Islands free trade agreement and access to China’s vast market of 1.4 billion people.
But according to a letter leaked last week, the draft communiqué has sparked opposition from at least one invited country, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). Micronesia President David Panuelo wrote that his country would argue that the communique was rejected because it “threatens regional stability.”
Speaking ahead of Monday’s meeting, former Vanuatu legislator Robert Born Seacol said it was difficult to know how successful China would be in expanding its influence as Pacific island nations used to be sought after by big powers.
“South Pacific countries know how to play the aid game. Chinese money is accepted, but South Pacific countries tend not to buy it!” Bohn Sikol told Al Jazeera. “A change of mind requires more than one visit.”
He added, “The West needs to pay attention, but not go crazy.”
China’s latest proposal comes just weeks after it signed a security deal with the Solomon Islands, which Australia and New Zealand fear could open the door to a Chinese military presence in the region.
Celsus Irokwato Talifilu, political adviser to the governor of the Solomon Islands province of Malaita, said he was concerned about China’s push for influence in the region.
“In general, it’s about whether the Pacific countries can manage themselves based on these new proposals from the Chinese,” Talifiru told Al Jazeera. “Otherwise, the Pacific will become China in the next year or two.”
Western powers were also outraged by China’s move, with the United States warning Pacific island nations to be wary of “veiled, vague and lack of transparency deals” with Beijing.
Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s new government has made the Pacific islands an early foreign policy priority in response to Beijing’s push, sending the foreign minister to Fiji to convey that Australia will place new priorities on the region’s greatest climate change security. information on the challenge and announcing a new visa scheme to allow Pacific island citizens to immigrate.
Only Pacific nations that recognize China on the Taiwan issue participated in Monday’s talks, including those that Wang has already visited on his regional tour – the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Samoa and Fiji.
Palau, a Pacific nation that maintains diplomatic relations with Taiwan, has also expressed concerns about the proposed deal, with President Surangel Whipps on Monday urging his neighbor to “exercise caution” and suggesting a deal with China could jeopardize peace and security in the region.