South Pacific nations say no to big deal with Beijing
The agreement involved some 10 island nations in the region. However, the parties agreed to work together in five areas, but not security. For the members of the Pacific Islands Forum, the priority is the fight against climate change and post-COVID recovery, not big power geopolitical confrontation. Beijing poorly prepared its diplomatic initiative.
Beijing (AsiaNews) – The island nations of the South Pacific have rejected China's offer of a major trade and security agreement.
The foreign ministers of the states invited to a virtual summit with their Chinese counterpart Wang Yi did not agree today on a joint communiqué proposed by China before the summit.
Wang is in Fiji, part of his tour of the region. In addition to Fiji, Tonga, Kiribati, Samoa, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Solomon, Niue, Federated States of Micronesia and Vanuatu attended the meeting.
The Chinese envoy stated that the parties agreed to cooperate in five areas, but not security. Regional leaders stressed that local populations see geopolitical issues as secondary, at a time when their islands are threatened by rising ocean waters.
Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Henry Puna told Wang today that the priorities for member states are fighting climate change and economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The South Pacific is a region of high strategic value caught in a power struggle between China and the United States.
A few weeks ago, China signed a security agreement with the Solomon Islands, whose terms are largely secret. Among other things, it gives Chinese warships the right to make stopovers and refuel in the country’s ports.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said several times that the pact does not grant China a naval base. Australia, New Zealand and the United States have expressed concern over the pact, noting that it will affect regional security.
Washington and its allies fear that Beijing might be able to establish military outposts in the South Pacific as it did in the South China Sea.
From the perspective of containing China, this would represent a direct threat to the ability of the US Navy to maintain links between Hawaii and the western Pacific.
It is not yet clear which countries have rejected China’s proposal. On the eve of the meeting, the Federated States of Micronesia – which have a military agreement with the US and an economic cooperation pact with China – expressed its opposition.
For several experts, China miscalculated, poorly preparing its diplomatic initiative, perhaps misled by the favourable outcome of negotiations with the Solomon Islands.
Concluding a multilateral pact with nations that have often conflicting agendas is a difficult undertaking even with the promise of lavish funding.