Ten Pacific island nations have rejected China’s regional security agreement

Ten Pacific island nations have rejected China's regional security agreement

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi addressed a news conference in Fiji’s capital, Subha.

Subha (Fiji):

The ten Pacific island nations on Monday rejected Chinese pressure for a comprehensive regional security agreement, amid concerns that the proposal was designed to drag them into Beijing orbit.

Talks in Fiji between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and leaders of small island countries have failed to reach an agreement on a high-profile diplomatic push for Beijing.

China is proposing to radically expand its activities in the South Pacific, directly challenging the influence of the United States and its allies in strategically important areas.

The proposed agreement would see Beijing train the Pacific archipelago, engage in cyber security, expand political ties, conduct sensitive maritime mapping, and gain greater access to natural resources on land and water.

As a temptation, Beijing is providing millions of dollars in financial aid, a potentially lucrative Sino-Pacific Free Trade Agreement and the possibility of China gaining access to a huge market of 1.4 billion people.

Behind the scenes, Pacific leaders have expressed deep doubts about the offer.

In a recent letter to fellow leaders, David Panuelo, president of the Federated States of Micronesia, warned that the proposal was “unscrupulous” and would “ensure Chinese influence in government” and “economic control” of key industries.

The talks were followed by more soft-spoken public rebuke, when leaders said they could not agree with Beijing’s proposed “general development vision” due to a lack of regional consensus.

“As always, we put consensus first,” co-host and Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said after the meeting, indicating that a broader agreement would be needed before any “new regional agreement” could be reached.

The federated states of Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Micronesia were among those concerned about the proposals, including Taiwan-recognized Palau, which were not invited.

Papua New Guinea’s Foreign Minister Soroi Yoo told AFP: “We would rather address our own security concerns with China,” citing concerns over any region-wide agreement.

Chinese officials – working tirelessly to secure support for Wang’s 10-day diplomatic blitz in the region – have acknowledged that their requests have been low.

“There is general support from 10 countries,” Chinese Ambassador to Fiji Qian Bo Subat told reporters. “Of course, there are some concerns about certain issues and we have agreed that these two documents will be discussed until we reach an agreement.”

Speaking from Suva, Wang announced that 10 countries have agreed on memorandums of understanding on China’s “Belt and Road” infrastructure initiative.

The two sides will “continue ongoing and in-depth discussions and consultations to build further consensus on cooperation,” he said, urging those concerned about Beijing’s intentions to be “not too anxious and not too nervous”.

The full proposal was not released, but was leaked to the media, including AFP, before Monday’s meeting.

China has said it will publish a “position paper” in the coming weeks presenting proposals to the public.

Equation law

Western powers have stepped in to oppose China’s move in the region, with the US State Department warning South Pacific nations to be wary of “shady, ambiguous agreements with little transparency”.

The country’s new foreign minister has warned of the “consequences” of such an agreement, with Australia joining the United States in rejecting China’s efforts to extend its security deeper into the region.

Many in the Pacific are uneasy about being pushed to the center of a geopolitical confrontation between China and US allies.

Most capitals are interested in maintaining friendly relations with China, focusing on balancing relations between Beijing, Washington, Canberra and Wellington, the more urgent threat of climate change and the daily economic problems.

During a joint appearance with Wang, Bainimarama hit out at those engaged in “geopolitical point-scoring”.

“It doesn’t mean much to those whose communities are sinking to the bottom of the rising sea, whose jobs have been lost to the epidemic or whose families have been affected by the rapid rise in commodity prices,” he said.

All but a few of the Pacific islands are deeply vulnerable to rising sea levels due to lowlands and climate change.

Prior to the meeting, President Xi Jinping sent a message that China would be “a good brother” in the region and that they shared a “common destiny”, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)

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