A ten-day trip by the head of Chinese diplomacy to South Pacifica region that historically forms part of the West’s sphere of influence, demonstrated Beijing’s willingness to open a new front in its global quest for power.
At first glance, the chancellor Wang Yi he was unsuccessful on his tour. His central proposal – a regional pact that would give China a key role in the security of the Pacific – was previously leaked to the media and then rejected by the region’s leaders.
The representatives of the ten Pacific Island States summoned did not bite their tongues when criticizing the fact that China has tried to impose a project of such importance without having practically consulted them.
“There can be no regional agreement when the region has not even met to discuss it”said the prime minister of the islands Samoa, Faith Naomi Mata’afa.
His counterpart from fiji, Frank Bainimarama, went even further. Speaking alongside Wang, he criticized those who seek “add geopolitical points”and stated that “That makes almost no sense to those whose communities are being devoured by the rising sea”.
A reaction of this type is not common in the respectful universe of diplomacy. “China overstepped the limits a bit”esteem Wesley MorganPacific Islander expert on Griffith University of Australia. “The conversation should have been more heated”he pointed.
Following the response from the island states, Chinese officials, known in recent years for their aggressive diplomacy, were left a bit stunned. The Chinese embassy in Fiji reported that no documents would be released at the end of the meeting.
However, Wang’s trip clearly marks a “new stage” for Chinese ambitions in the region, judge EJohn Grahamsecurity specialist Pacific Asia in the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
So far, China has sought to expand its influence. “Step by Step”explains this expert. “Now the veil has fallen. China is confident, sometimes too confident, and we are seeing a clear intensification of their efforts.”he adds.
During this tour, Wang referred to investments “win-win” in infrastructure, fishing or mining. But he also addressed more sensitive issues, such as cybersecurity, maritime surveillance or law enforcement.
Experts see in all this a much more ambitious geopolitical program: to weaken the influence of the United States, modify the military balance in Asia, and even prepare an invasion of Taiwan.
“We hope to expand our circle of friends”it states Zhao ShaofengDirector of the Pacific Island Countries Research Center at the Liaocheng University in China.
“The United States continued to surround and block China internationally. To a certain extent, China has to fight back.”he adds.
Some US officials fear that Beijing’s goal is to establish a permanent military presence in the South Pacific. This would force Washington to reorganize its forces, whose current priority is to contain North Korea and China.
If Beijing installed a single base in the South Pacific, it would be “very vulnerable” against powerful US forces in the region, Graham estimates.
“But it is evident that their projects are much broader”Explain. “If they get three or four (bases) they should be taken seriously” by Washington.
Analysts anticipate that China will act patiently and one by one convince Pacific leaders that they will see a political advantage in allying with Beijing.
Wang did not leave the region empty-handed, as he signed a series of bilateral agreements with Samoa Y Papua New Guinea which, while modest, could allow Chinese police, ships and officials to be seen more often in those countries.
The Solomon Islands, shaken by riots in 2021, have already signed a security pact that could allow the Chinese police to act there to restore order.
No one should underestimate Pacific Island leaders, warns Richard Herrprofessor at the University of Tasmania, Australia.
“There is a cliché in some circles, an unlucky cliché, that the loyalty of the islands could be bought”He says. “But they did not achieve their independence to sell it”it states.
Few people think that the leaders of the region have the capacity to “carry out a truly astute foreign policy”and balance the relationships between China Y Westpoints Anna Powlessecurity expert Massey University of New Zealand. And yet “it is exactly what they are doing”he concludes.