Australia and the United States are stepping up support in the Pacific islands after China proposed a security and economic framework that could boost its presence in the region.
The draft common development vision between China and Pacific island countries, first reported by Reuters, was sent last week to nearly a dozen Pacific island countries. He proposed a series of measures, including high-level police training, network and cybersecurity collaboration, and the development of free trade zones with China.
The proposal was released ahead of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to the islands and represents a broader push by Beijing to strengthen ties with the region after signing a security pact with the Solomon Islands.
Wang called relations with the Solomon Islands, his first leg of an eight-country regional tour, a model for China‘s relations with the Pacific islands.
“China will firmly support the Solomon Islands in safeguarding national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity, safeguarding national unity and accelerating . . . national development and revitalization,” he said. he said according to a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The statement added that China agreed to implement various economic cooperation projects in the country, but made no mention of the security agreement signed last month.
Anthony Albanese, Australia’s new prime minister, has criticized his predecessor’s administration for its “complacency” in allowing China to expand its influence in the Pacific. “We know that China sees this as the first in a long series,” he said of the proposed regional pact.
Australia’s Labor government has made the Pacific a priority after being sworn in this week. It plans to increase development aid by around 500 million Australian dollars ($354 million) in coming years and has placed climate policy at the center of its diplomatic efforts in the region. The Quad, a security group made up of Australia, the United States, India and Japan, also agreed this week to crack down on illegal fishing in the region.
Penny Wong, Australia’s foreign minister, traveled to Fiji’s capital Suva on Thursday to meet Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama ahead of his conference with Wang on Monday.
The United States also acted before Wang’s trip. Kurt Campbell, the top US White House official for the Indo-Pacific, who visited the region last month, held a video call with Bainimarama this week to discuss enhanced security and economic deals. .
There is doubt, however, that China’s broad multilateral framework will succeed with all of its target countries. Micronesia, for example, should resist a regional agreement.
Charles Dunst, an Indo-Pacific expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank, said while the security aspects of the deal would alarm the United States and its allies, it was not clear whether the effort would be successful.
“China’s decision to present a pre-written deal from Beijing appears to have frustrated some Pacific Island leaders – mirroring the 2016 kerfuffle when China presented ASEAN leaders and demanded they sign a pre-written deal. -wrote on several contentious issues,” he said. mentioned.
“Some Pacific Island leaders also oppose signing this agreement without prior consultation and negotiation.”
But China could still pursue bilateral agreements, such as a security pact with Kiribati, as the Financial Times reported this week.
“China’s bold move in the Pacific is an important reminder. . . that China still knows how to use carrots as well as sticks to wield global influence,” said Kurt Tong, a former senior US diplomat who is now a partner at consultancy The Asia Group.
“Many of China’s strongest diplomatic offers are in areas related to business and the economy,” he said.