Fiji will join the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific economic framework just days before the Chinese foreign minister arrives in Fiji, which will give the Biden administration a victory in the race to Beijing for influence in the Pacific.
US National Security Adviser Jack Sullivan welcomed Fiji’s move to become the first Pacific island nation and the 14th member of the IPEF, a trade initiative aimed at deepening economic ties, President Joe Biden launches in Japan on Monday.
“IPEF now reflects the comprehensive regional diversity of the Indo-Pacific, with members from Northeast and Southeast Asia, South Asia, Oceania and the Pacific Islands,” Sullivan said.
The decision comes as the United States breathes a sigh of relief in its battle with Beijing over its rapidly escalating influence in the Pacific island nation.
US, Australia, New Zealand and Japan panic as China and US sign security pact Solomon Islands This year. Some security experts believe the deal could pave the way for Beijing to build a naval base that would allow it to project its power further into the Pacific.
This The Financial Times reported last week China is negotiating a security deal with Kiribati, another Pacific island nation 3,000 kilometers from Hawaii. Reuters reported that Beijing proposed a broader security and economic arrangement to the 10 Pacific island nations, called the “China-Pacific Island Countries Shared Development Vision”.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is expected to discuss the proposal with Pacific island nations in Fiji on Monday. But Suva’s decision to join the IPEF undermined Beijing’s incentive to reach a comprehensive political, economic and security deal.
Fiji has been at the heart of China’s push for influence in the Pacific. Western governments suspended engagement with the country after current Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama became president in a military coup in 2006. China stepped in to build ties, providing support to the Bainimarama government and increasing aid from $1 million to $161 million over two years.
Fiji has since helped China promote partnerships with other countries in the region outside the Pacific Islands Forum, which includes U.S. allies Australia and New Zealand.
But analysts say Suva is far more sophisticated in managing relations with China than other smaller countries in the region.
“They learned how the Chinese government works, what institutions do what, and so they gain the ability to look after their own interests,” said Tarcisius Kabutaulaka, an associate professor at the University of Hawaii. “For example, when they think that China When the loan doesn’t work for them, they turn it down.”
US push for Fiji to join IPEF as part of broader strategy win some countries back sphere of influence from China. The IPEF was designed to fill part of the vacuum created by then-President Donald Trump when he pulled the US out of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact in 2017.
Australia’s new foreign minister, Penny Wong, has also made a clear commitment to work in the region in a bid to regain support ahead of Wang Yi’s visit to China.
Speaking at the Pacific Islands Forum in Suva this week, she said Canberra would increase its aid to the Pacific by around A$500 million ($356 million) over the next four years, with “no strings attached and no unsustainable imposed. financial burden”.
Sullivan said Fiji would add “significant value” to IPEF, particularly in addressing climate change. Fiji and other Pacific nations face dire threats from rising temperatures and rising sea levels.