A top US diplomat for Southeast Asia yesterday urged Pacific island nations not to withdraw diplomatic recognition of Taiwan, warning that Chinese pressure to change Taiwan’s international standing threatens to increase the possibility of conflict.
US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs W. Patrick Murphy spoke to reporters in Canberra at the end of a three-day visit to Australia for talks with government officials on expanding their security alliance.
Six Pacific island nations have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, accounting for one-third of the nation’s diplomatic allies around the world, but they are under intensifying pressure from Beijing to switch allegiance as it builds its influence in the region.
Murphy said that diplomatic decisions should not be influenced by China.
“China is attempting to reduce Taiwan’s diplomatic relations in the region and that’s kind of heavy-handed,” Murphy said. “It gives rise to tensions by changing the ‘status quo’ and then the possibility of conflict.”
Then-Solomon Islands prime minister Rick Hou had promised to review the nation’s relations with Taiwan before he lost power in last month’s elections.
Switching recognition to China, the Solomon Islands’ biggest export market, remains a live issue.
Murphy said that the US has “strong diplomatic relations” with the Solomon Islands and had congratulated newly elected Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.
Murphy declined to say whether he discussed with Australian officials concerns of some security analysts that China wants to construct a deep-water military base somewhere in the Pacific.
Chinese militarization in the Pacific would be as destabilizing as its militarization of disputed islands in the South China Sea, he said.
“A growing military presence anywhere in the region of a country like China that doesn’t work on a rules-based approach or adhere to international standards is and should be of concern,” Murphy said. “We have a lot of national interests in the region that are built on freedoms of commerce, navigation and overflight. We have key partners and the establishment of a military presence there, the notion, the concept, is indeed quite troubling.”
Murphy today is due to fly to Australia’s nearest neighbor, Papua New Guinea, where pro-Beijing Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Peter O’Neill backs China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.
The US and Australia have committed to redevelop a naval base on Manus Island.
Murphy said that the Lombrum Naval Base expansion was about a “partnership with Papua New Guinea and meeting its needs,” not denying China a military presence in the nation of more than 8 million people.
When Australia and Papua New Guinea announced the upgrade in October last year, China cautioned both nations to discard “Cold War” thinking, referring to an era when the world was less integrated.
“The Pacific island countries should not be the sphere of influence of any country,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Lu Kang (陸慷) said at the time.
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