Pacific Islands Security Pact: China tries to influence Wang Yi tour

The draft proposal sent by China to potential partners in the South Pacific calls for closer cooperation in the areas of security, law enforcement and cybersecurity, as well as economic development, among other areas.

Draft proposal provided to CNN by a person with direct knowledge of the matter and first reported ReutersIt is expected to be discussed at the second China-Pacific Islands Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Fiji next week as part of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s 10-day regional diplomatic tour.

Wang’s tour began on Thursday from the Solomon Islands and will visit Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and East Timor, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

The draft proposal outlined in the Common Development Vision and Five-Year Plan of Action drafts echoes the bilateral security agreement signed last month between China and the Solomon Islands and could signify significant progress in Beijing’s influence in the region. but it remains unclear if it will be able to gain regional recognition.

At least one country targeted by the agreement has already raised concerns, and other regional powers wary of China’s intentions have sparked a wider backlash.

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

Panuelo argued that signing such an agreement would not only affect the sovereignty of the Pacific countries, but could also lead to a new Cold War amid tensions between China and the West.

The draft proposal also sparked outrage in Australia: New Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who has criticized his predecessor’s failure to prevent China’s deal with the Solomon Islands, said Thursday his country “can’t afford” to “throw the ball” in his response.

“This is China seeking to increase its influence in a region of the world where Australia has been a preferred security partner since World War II.” he saidadding that Canberra would need to offer more support.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogaware assured last month that Honiara’s deal with Beijing would “complement” the existing security agreement with Australia and “would not adversely affect or undermine peace and harmony in our region.” The Solomon Islands are about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) off the northeast coast of Australia.

However, in a sign of the Albanian government’s concern about Chinese expansion in the region, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong traveled to Fiji on Thursday, where in a speech that did not directly mention China, she presented Australia as “a partner that is not bound by any conditions, nor with an unbearable financial burden.

“We are a partner that will not undermine the priorities of the Pacific region or its institutions. We believe in transparency. We believe in true partnership,” Wong said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Wednesday she was “very strongly of the view that we have the means and capacity in the Pacific to respond to any existing security challenges.”

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, strengthening political mutual trust, expanding practical cooperation, and deepening people-to-people ties to build an even closer community with a common future for China and the Pacific Islands.” This was announced on Wednesday by a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

The spokesman also countered when asked about concerns that the Pacific Islands security agreement might spark a cold war, calling it “sensational remarks”.

In Washington on Wednesday, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US was “aware that China is seeking to conclude a number of agreements during the foreign secretary’s visit to the region.”

“We are concerned that these reported agreements may be negotiated in a rushed and non-transparent process,” he said, pointing to what he called a scheme where Beijing offers “shadowy, vague deals,” adding that the US respect the ability of countries to make their own sovereign decisions.

The proposed draft security agreement and Wang’s tour come amid heightened concerns from other regional powers about Beijing’s Indo-Pacific ambitions.

China claims almost the entire vast South China Sea as its sovereign territory. It builds and militarizes its installations there, turns the islands into military bases and airstrips, and allegedly creates a naval militia that can number 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 US has reaffirmed 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” over China’s security agreement with the Solomon Islands and its lack of “response to concerns in the region.”

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