China hosts Pacific islands meeting in Fiji, eyes security ties

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi poses for a photo before meeting U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome, Italy, October 31, 2021. Tiziana Fabi/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

(Reuters) – Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with foreign ministers from 10 Pacific island nations in Fiji on Monday as the region is making a diplomatic visit to the region, where China’s ambitions to expand security ties have raised concerns among U.S. allies.

Pacific island nations that have diplomatic ties with China will attend the meeting chaired by Wang, who earlier met Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.

The draft communiqué and five-year action plan sent by China to the invited countries including Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Niue and Vanuatu before the meeting indicated that China is seeking comprehensive regional trade and guarantee agreements .

But according to a letter leaked last week, the draft communique sparked opposition from at least one invited country, the Federated States of Micronesia.

With borders in 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.

An official from a Pacific country told Reuters that some invited countries wanted to delay action on the communique or revise it.

In recent days, some Pacific islands have signed up to some of the separate security elements China has sought in regional agreements, according to statements from the government and China.

Samoa said in a statement that it had reached an agreement to establish a police fingerprinting laboratory to complement a Chinese-funded police training academy.

The United States, Australia, Japan and New Zealand have raised concerns about a security deal signed by the Solomon Islands with China last month, saying it has regional consequences and could lead to a Chinese military presence near Australia.

Australia’s new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese government has made the Pacific islands an early foreign policy priority in response to Beijing’s push, announcing a defence training school, supporting maritime security, increasing aid and re-engaging the region in the fight against climate change.

In Honiara last week, Wang condemned interference in the agreement and said Solomon Islands’ relationship with China was a model for other Pacific island nations.

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