Oceania

China and Australia Make Rival Bids to Woo Pacific Island Nations

 

China and Australia’s new centre-left government have launched rival bids to woo Pacific Island nations, both sending their foreign ministers to the region to boost influence in the region.

China’s Foreign minister Wang Yi signed a bilateral agreement with Samoa on Saturday to strengthen diplomatic ties on the third stop in an eight-nation tour by the Chinese delegation, after initial visits to the Solomon Islands and Kiribati.

The Samoan government said Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa met Wang Yi and discussed “climate change, the pandemic and peace and security”.

After, they signed economic and technical cooperation agreements for “projects to be determined”, while China presented a handover certificate for an Arts and Culture Centre, a Samoa-China Friendship Park, plus documents related to a fingerprint laboratory for police to complement construction of the Police Academy.

The government noted in its statement that the key to these relations was “adherence to the One China policy”. The Solomons, Kiribati and Samoa all now recognize Beijing instead of Taiwan.

 

ALSO SEE: China-Solomons Pact’s Lack of ‘Transparency’ Worries US

 

 

Australia Also Looking to Boost Spending

China wants to build on a security pact it signed recently with the Solomon Islands, and is seeking a 10-nation deal on security and trade.

The security agreement between China and the Solomons has alarmed the United States and allies like Australia and New Zealand, who fear a stepped-up military presence by Beijing.

At a press conference in Honiara after meeting his counterpart from the Solomons, Wang Yi said China had “no intention at all to establish a military base.”

Meanwhile, Australia’s new centre-left government led by Anthony Albanese, who was sworn in on Monday, has made the Pacific Islands an early diplomatic priority.

The new leader said he had a “comprehensive plan” for the Pacific, which includes a defence training school, support for maritime security, a boost in aid and re-engaging the region on climate change.

“We will be proactive in the region, we want to engage,” Albanese told reporters.

The Australians got a boost on Saturday when Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said he had a “wonderful meeting” with Foreign Minister Penny Wong, who visited days after taking office to show the new government’s attention to the Pacific Islands.

 

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Fiji is not anyone’s backyard — we are a part of a Pacific family. And our greatest concern isn’t geopolitics — it’s climate change. <br><br>In that spirit, I had a wonderful meeting with Foreign Minister <a href=”https://twitter.com/SenatorWong?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@SenatorWong</a> to strengthen our Vuvale Partnership with Australia. <a href=”https://t.co/RH80dPnCAk”>pic.twitter.com/RH80dPnCAk</a></p>&mdash; Frank Bainimarama (@FijiPM) <a href=”https://twitter.com/FijiPM/status/1530265872354332673?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>May 27, 2022</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

 

The Fijian PM appeared to be taking a veiled swipe at Scott Morrison, the conservative prime minister ousted in an election last weekend, who once referred to the Pacific as Australia’s “backyard”.

Climate change, which Pacific Island nations consider an existential threat, had been a key issue in the election.

Australia’s Wong has said that Canberra will be a partner that does not come with strings attached, while China appears to be offering infrastructure projects.

Wang was headed to Fiji late on Saturday, where he is expected to push for the regional deal in a meeting he will host on Monday.

 

• Jim Pollard with Reuters

 

 

ALSO on AF:

 

Australia to Keep Security Ties With Solomons Despite China Pact

Canberra Sends Minister to Solomon Islands Over China Pact

Australia Says China Solomons Deal Risks Destabilising Pacific

 

Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years and has a family in Bangkok.

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