China is seeking a region-wide deal with almost a dozen Pacific island nations covering policing, security and data communications cooperation when Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅) hosts a meeting in Fiji next week, documents seen by Reuters showed, while an Australian official is due in Suva today.
A draft communique and five-year action plan sent by Beijing to 10 Pacific islands ahead of a foreign ministers meeting on Monday next week has prompted pushback from at least one of the invited nations, which says it showed China’s intent to control the region and “threatens regional stability.”
In a letter to 21 Pacific leaders, Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo said that his nation would argue the “predetermined joint communique” should be rejected, because he fears it could spark a new “cold war” between China and the West.
Wang is to visit eight Pacific island nations that China holds diplomatic ties with from today until Saturday next week.
He is to arrive today in the Solomon Islands.
The China-Pacific Island Countries Common Development Vision draft document, as well as a five-year action plan, has been circulated by Beijing ahead of the meeting in Fiji.
It says that China and the Pacific islands are to “strengthen exchanges and cooperation in the fields of traditional and nontraditional security.”
“China will hold intermediate and high-level police training for Pacific island countries through bilateral and multilateral means,” the document says.
The action plan outlines a ministerial dialogue on law enforcement capacity and police cooperation to be held this year, and China providing forensic police laboratories.
The draft communique also pledges cooperation on data networks, cybersecurity, smart customs systems and for Pacific islands to “take a balanced approach to technological progress, economic development and protection of national security.”
The communique also proposes a China-Pacific islands free-trade area, and support for action on climate change and health.
In his letter to other leaders, Panuelo said that the communique would shift Pacific islands who hold diplomatic relations with China “very close into Beijing’s orbit, intrinsically tying the whole of our economies and societies to them.”
Panuelo highlighted the risk of Pacific islands being caught in geopolitical conflict as tensions rise between the US and China over Taiwan.
“The practical impacts, however, of Chinese control over our communications infrastructure, our ocean territory and the resources within them, and our security space, aside from impacts on our sovereignty, is that it increases the chances of China getting into conflict with Australia, Japan, the United States and New Zealand,” he said.
Meanwhile, Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Penny Wong (黃英賢) is to arrive in Fiji today after the new government in Canberra put deeper ties with the Pacific at the top of its agenda.
Wong said that the trip in her first week on the job “demonstrates the importance we place on our relationship with Fiji and on our Pacific engagement.”
“I look forward to sharing our ideas on how we seek to bring together Australia’s defence, strategic, diplomatic and economic capabilities to support our region’s priorities,” she said.
In New York, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that her nation welcomes more investment in the Pacific region, but does not support increased militarization.
“We want cooperation in areas where we have shared concern, like climate adaptation and mitigation,” Ardern told reporters. “We want quality investment in infrastructure. We don’t want militarization. We don’t want an escalation in tension. We want peace and stability.”
Additional reporting by AFP and Bloomberg
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