Pacific Islands Security Pact: China plays for influence on Wang Yi’s tour

The draft proposal sent by China to potential partners in the South Pacific calls for greater cooperation in security, policing and cybersecurity, and economic development, among other areas.

The draft proposal, provided to CNN by a person with direct knowledge of the matter and first reported by Reuters, is expected to be discussed at the second meeting of China-Pacific island countries foreign ministers in Fiji this week. next — as part of a 10-day regional diplomatic tour by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

Wang’s tour kicked off in the Solomon Islands on Thursday and will take the minister to Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and East Timor, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

The draft proposal, outlined in a draft ‘Common Development Vision’ and ‘Five-Year Action Plan’, echoes a bilateral security pact signed last month between China and the Solomon Islands and could mark a breakthrough significant in Beijing’s influence in the region. but it is still unclear if he can gain regional acceptance.

Already at least one country the deal was intended for has raised concerns, and there has been a wider backlash from other regional powers who are suspicious of China’s intentions.

In a letter to 22 other Pacific leaders seen by CNN, Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo said the draft proposal seeks to displace Pacific nations with diplomatic relations with China “very close to Beijing’s orbit”.

Panuelo argued that in addition to impacting the sovereignty of Pacific nations, signing such an agreement could lead to a new “cold war” amid tensions between China and the West.

The draft proposal also sparked an outcry in Australia, with new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese – who had criticized his predecessor’s failure to avoid China’s deal with the Solomon Islands – saying on Thursday that his country “cannot not afford” to “drop” in his response.

‘It is China seeking to increase its influence in this region of the world where Australia has been the security partner of choice since World War II,’ he said, adding that Canberra should offer more support. .

Last month, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare assured Honiara’s deal with Beijing would “complement” an existing security agreement with Australia and “would not affect or undermine peace and justice.” harmony of our region”. The Solomon Islands lie about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) off the northeast coast of Australia.

Nonetheless, in a mark of the Albanian government’s concern over Chinese expansion in the region, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong visited Fiji on Thursday, where – in a speech that did not directly name China – she presented Australia as “a partner that does not come with strings attached, nor impose unsustainable financial burdens.”

“We are a partner that will not erode Pacific priorities or institutions. We believe in transparency. We believe in true partnerships,” Wong said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Wednesday that she was “strongly confident that we in the Pacific have the wherewithal and the ability to respond to all the security challenges that exist”.

Beijing has not confirmed that it is seeking a multilateral agreement in the region.

Wang’s visit was aimed at “further strengthening high-level exchanges, consolidating political mutual trust, expanding practical cooperation and deepening people-to-people ties so as to build an even closer community with a shared future for China and China.” Pacific island countries”. a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said on Wednesday.

The spokesman also pushed back when asked about fears a Pacific Islands security deal could spark a cold war – calling it “sensational remarks”.

In Washington on Wednesday, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States was “aware that China was seeking to negotiate a series of arrangements during the Foreign Secretary’s visit to China. region “.

“We are concerned that these reported agreements could be negotiated in a rushed and non-transparent process,” he said, pointing to what he described as a tendency for Beijing to offer “gloomy and vague agreements “, while adding that the United States respects the capacity of the countries. make their own sovereign decisions.

The proposed draft security deal and Wang’s tour come amid heightened concern from other regional powers over Beijing’s ambitions in the Indo-Pacific.

China claims almost all of the vast South China Sea as its sovereign territory. He built and militarized his installations there, turned islands into military bases and airstrips, and is said to have created a maritime militia that could number in the hundreds of ships.

And in the East China Sea, China claims sovereignty over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, also known as the Diaoyu Islands. In recent years, the United States has reiterated its promise to defend the islands in the event of foreign aggression.

In a joint statement on Monday, US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida “expressed concern” about China’s security deal with the Solomon Islands and its lack of “response to regional voices of concern”.