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In late May, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held a virtual summit with the leaders of several Pacific island republics to urge them to join a Beijing-led mutual security and economic agreement. It didn’t end well.

During the summit, Beijing proposed that the Federated States of Micronesia, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Niue and Timor-Leste join it in a new “China-island countries”. of the Pacific Common Development Vision.”

The proposed pact was sweeping, including creating a free trade area within member states, as well as providing humanitarian and COVID-19 aid. It also included Chinese assistance for training Pacific Island police forces, strengthening cybersecurity and nautical cartography.

More worryingly, the plan proposed that these Pacific islands allow the presence of Chinese security forces and ships in their countries. This could potentially provide China’s military or coast guard with expanded access to the Pacific Ocean and make them “better positioned for conflict” with the United States.

Indeed, the Chinese had reason to be optimistic about such an ambitious pact. Earlier this year, Beijing signed a framework agreement on security cooperation with the Solomon Islands. The agreement allows China to send police, military personnel and other law enforcement personnel to the Solomons to help “maintain social order, protect people’s lives and property, and provide humanitarian assistance” .

The deal also allows Chinese vessels access to ports in the Solomon Islands to carry out “logistical resupply”, raising fears that China could one day acquire a naval base in the country.

Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele shakes hands with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi after issuing joint press statements to mark the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two nations at the guest house in Solomon Islands. Diaoyutai State in Beijing, China on Sept. 21, 2019. (Naohiko Hatta/Getty Images)

In addition, Beijing recently signed bilateral cooperation agreements with Samoa and Kiribati. In particular, the agreement with Kiribati focuses on a wide range of areas, including infrastructure (such as the reconstruction of an airstrip), health and pandemic response, climate change and maritime affairs.

Nevertheless, China’s encounter with the various Pacific island states ended in a major setback for the latter. Most Pacific leaders refused or postponed action, arguing that the proposal needed to be changed first.

Some Pacific leaders are particularly wary of China’s long-term intentions. David Panuelo, president of the Federated States of Micronesia, urged “serious caution” going forward and warned that the security aspect of the proposed deal “demonstrates China’s intention to displace Pacific allegiances in their direction”.

Panuelo added that “the shared development vision threatens to bring a new era of cold war at best, and world war at worst.”

The Chinese response was not comforting. Foreign Minister Wang’s feedback on rejecting the proposed pact was to tell Pacific islanders, “Don’t be too anxious and don’t be too nervous,” adding that China would provide assistance to Pacific island countries without ” no political conditions attached. .”

Given Beijing’s growing belligerent behavior in places like the South China Sea, such assurances are more likely to raise concerns than assuage them. Most Pacific island nations will likely deal with China in a more ad hoc and in a transactional way, giving as little as possible while trying to get the most out of it.

These nations are also more likely to guard against too much Chinese influence in their neighborhoods by engaging closely with the West at the same time. In particular, many of these countries could join the new US-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF).

The IPEF can be seen as the successor to the aborted Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed trade pact that would have included most major Pacific Rim countries, including Latin American states. Donald Trump killed the TPP by becoming president.

Above all, the IPEF is not a free trade agreement like the TPP. Instead, it is designed as a framework to foster better trade and economic relations among its member states. IPEF’s efforts will revolve around four pillars: fair and resilient trade; supply chain resilience; infrastructure, clean energy and decarbonization; and fiscal and anti-corruption measures.

At least one Pacific island nation – Fiji – has already joined IPEF, which also includes Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore , South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam, as well as the United States. .

Above all, it aims to counter the growing economic weight of China, both regionally and globally. In fact, Beijing has already denounced the IPEF as an attempt to force Asia-Pacific countries to “pick sides” in the Sino-US strategic competition.

This is probably true, and one could think of the IPEF as the economic arm of an emerging US-led security network in the Indo-Pacific, as evidenced by the AUKUS agreement and the security dialogue. Australian-Indian-Japanese-American quadrilateral, also known as the “Quad”.

Most nations in the region would probably prefer to balance the two great powers, drawing benefits from each. That said, the shelving of the Common Development Vision should not be expected to be the end of China’s efforts to eject Pacific island nations into its sphere of influence. Beijing will continue bilateral efforts to reach out to these countries, and China said it will soon release a position paper on the need for closer cooperation with Pacific countries.

Sino-American competition in the Indo-Pacific is only intensifying and spreading further into the Pacific Ocean.

The opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Epoch Times.

Richard A. Bitzinger

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Richard A. Bitzinger is an independent international security analyst. He was previously a senior research fellow at the Military Transformations Program at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in Singapore, and has held positions in the US government and various think tanks. His research focuses on security and defense issues related to the Asia-Pacific region, including the rise of China as a military power, military modernization and the proliferation of armaments in the region.

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