China Ramps up Cooperation With Pacific Island Countries Despite AUKUS Pressure
Monday, October 25, 2021
Paul Antonopoulos, independent geopolitical analyst
The foreign ministers of China and the Pacific Island nations have set up a regular meeting mechanism to expand on new areas of cooperation, including in emergency responses, fighting poverty and climate change, and the economy. China signalled that it will increase political and economic influence in a region that the US, using Australia as its police dog, wants to dominate.
The foreign ministers meeting was held in a video conference and was attended by representatives of Kiribati, Fiji, Tonga, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Micronesia and the Solomon Islands. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi suggested holding such meetings regularly. His Pacific Island partners are also interested in this form of dialogue, understanding that China can bring unprecedented development and opportunities to their small countries that have been mostly ignored by the West, as well as nearby Australia.
The field of cooperation between the parties is expanding and reaching a higher level of interaction, especially as China is boosting its close trade and economic ties with the island nations. In many of these countries, China is constructing government buildings, hospitals, police facilities and water supply systems, ensuring that real development is being made, unlike Western aid that usually ends up in the hands of the local elite.
The US and Australia are paying close attention to China’s growing economic influence in the region and are trying to discredit the Belt and Road Initiative and other Chinese projects. Both countries falsely claim that China is building and upgrading ports in the region to serve as their naval bases rather than facilitating transport logistics.
Despite many of these island nations being located between Australia and the American continent, they have traditionally been ignored by these countries. However, now that China has gained a foothold in the region, not only economically, but also politically, the two countries are now desperately trying to reverse the trend. With the two parties having regular ministerial meetings and the South Pacific Island countries enthusiastic for Chinese investments, it is extremely unlikely that Washington and Canberra will be able to deter them from strengthening their relations.
Established economic ties are the main means for Beijing to further improve its economic and political relations with the region. Because of the new mechanism, China will be able to pay more attention to the political and humanitarian agenda and establish long-term relationships with local leaders and political elites. This will inevitably lead to countries abandoning their official relations with Taipei in favor of Beijing, thus increasing the mainland’s support. It is recalled that the Pacific Island nations of Marshall Islands, Palau, Tuvalu and Nauru still recognize Taipei instead of Beijing.
By cooperating with China, these Oceanic countries see a reliable way to solve their problems, such as responses to health crises and other emergencies, and combating poverty and climate change. Therefore, at the ministerial meeting, a roadmap for the development of cooperation in new fields was determined.
At the meeting, Wang Yi affirmed that China is willing to work with Pacific Island nations to protect the international nuclear non-proliferation system and expressed support for the efforts of other countries in the region to create a nuclear-free zone in the South Pacific. The Chinese minister said the initiative to establish AUKUS poses a threat to the region, and he warned of “nuclear fuel spills” from the trilateral alliance, as well as their risk against regional peace and stability.
Although AUKUS is primarily focussed on containing China, even using Taiwan as an outpost to restrict the mainland’s influence in the region, undoubtedly the pressure campaign will also occur in the South Pacific where Australia is in close proximity to several of the island countries, and where the US also has a presence, like in Guam.
Australia since World War II has always been subservient to US strategy in the Pacific region, even participating in the Vietnam War when motherland Britain had not. Through the AUKUS formation, it is expected that Australia under US guidance will continue a policing role against China in the South Pacific region. However, despite this likely eventuality, it is highly unlikely that Pacific Island countries will capitulate to a pressure campaign now that China is actively developing these countries and has ambitious plans to ramp up investments. This is off the back of Australia and the US mostly ignoring these countries.
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