June 6, 2022
SYDNEY/BEIJING – Foreign Minister and State Councilor Wang Yi’s eight-country tour of the Pacific may not have secured a security and trade deal with all the island countries visited, but it underscored the China’s determination to establish partnerships and cooperation in the region.
It was not, as some Western media claimed, an exercise in driving a wedge between Pacific island states and their Western partners, experts said.
“On the contrary, the trip underscored the fact that China is also open to broader commercial and security ties with the Pacific,” said Professor Zhu Ying, director of the Australian Center for Asian Affairs at the University of Australia. South Australia.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s tour was not, as some Western media claimed, an exercise in driving a wedge between Pacific island states and their Western partners, experts said.
Zhu said the United States, Australia and New Zealand, to a lesser extent, are worried about China’s role in the Pacific because “they see the Pacific as their own territory” of influence.
“Some island leaders don’t like that and have said that some countries (Australia and the United States in particular) see the Pacific as their backyard,” he said.
“All China wants to do is help develop these nations…not build military bases. It is only in the imagination of those in the West like Australia and the United States.
Zhu said whatever China offers to Pacific countries belongs to them. “They can take it or leave it,” he said. “They are sovereign nations after all.”
Colin Mackerras, Emeritus Professor at Griffith University in Queensland and one of the country’s leading sinologists, agreed saying that “the fact is that these are sovereign nations able to do business with whoever they want. The ultimate decision rests with the countries themselves.
He said many Western commentators and politicians viewed Wang’s tour with “disapproval”, saying it was aimed at Australia, with some describing it as an act of “aggression”.
“I don’t see it that way,” Mackerras said. “China has every right to take this initiative.”
An article in the Samoa Observer on June 1 said Samoan Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa was “outraged” that the region’s biggest nations were “suddenly interested” in the Pacific after that the Solomon Islands have signed a security agreement with China.
It was a veiled reference to Australia where, despite a new government in Canberra, Wang saw the tour as a threat to regional security.
Fiame said AUKUS and Quad members “do not seek the opinion of Pacific island nations”. AUKUS is a trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue group includes Australia, India, Japan and the United States.
“There are times when they want to talk and there are times when they look at us on such matters,” she said.
Professor James Laurenceson, director of the Institute of Australia-China Relations at the University of Technology Sydney, said China had spent several years paying regular attention to the Pacific.
“So in that sense, Wang Yi’s trip to the Pacific is a continuation of that,” he told China Daily.
Wang began her tour on May 26 in the Solomon Islands and ended in Timor Leste on June 4.
On May 30, he held a virtual meeting in Fiji with the foreign ministers of all Pacific island countries that recognize China – the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, Tong, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, the Cook Islands, Niue and the Federated States of Micronesia – where he described a vast economic and security package.
However, not all participants in the virtual meeting agreed with all the proposals.
Laurenceson said the package offered to Pacific island nations was “ambitious” but expects parts “could be taken up” by some of them.
“The fact is that they are sovereign nations able to do business with whoever they want. The final decision rests with the countries themselves. Not China,” he said.
Regarding reports that China intends to expand militarily in the Pacific, Laurenceson said the claims about a series of bases “mainly relate to speculation.”
Professor David Goodman, director of the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Sydney, said he did not see the trip as a “prelude” to building military bases in the Pacific.
He said the Pacific island nations are small economies and China has little to gain from them economically.
“China does not want confrontation and sincerely wants to help Pacific island states develop,” he said.
Professor Jane Golley, from the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University in Canberra, said that despite some negative media coverage of the visit, “there could be environmental, economic and even security benefits to be gained by engaging with the second largest economy”.
She suggested looking at the positive benefits that China’s engagement with the Pacific can bring “rather than focusing on a one-sided narrative that only increases geopolitical tensions.”
Hans Hendrischke, professor of Chinese business and management at the University of Sydney, said that “the exclusive geostrategic focus on China’s motivation to intensify its relations with the Pacific is one-sided and neglects long-term economic motivations”. .
He said China was already the biggest trading partner for a number of Pacific countries with interests mainly in fishing and mining.
Hendrischke said, “China protects these interests through the establishment of supply chains, including maritime transport, air transport and communication. China’s Belt and Road Initiative provides the necessary infrastructure to serve as a development model. »
He said the geostrategic perspective overlooks the role that Australia and established players have in the Pacific. “Australia remains a major partner for Pacific countries in terms of providing basic support and as a depot in supply chains,” Hendrischke said.
Jason Young, director of the Center for Contemporary China Research in New Zealand at Victoria University of Wellington, said Wang’s tour demonstrates that China is “serious and committed” in its relations with the island countries of the Pacific and is making a “great effort to make a number of different types of agreements and to strengthen its relationship with Pacific island countries.
Young said Wang’s tour saw several deals signed, adding that the depth of the trip “caught a number of reviewers off guard.”