The island states, which stretch across the South Pacific and are known more for their tourism potential than for their natural resources, do not seem to have significant geopolitical value at first glance, but the isolated volcanic archipelagos nevertheless the rest of the world has become the newest arena in which the US and China are vying for supremacy, writes CNN.
This competition has come to the fore in recent days, with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi concluding a ten-day tour of eight South Pacific countries to promote cooperation and an economic plan that Beijing is trying to achieve. to expand its role in the region.
Wang’s visit and news of Beijing’s proposal were not well received by other long-established interests in the South Pacific, such as Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Washington announced last week that it would step up its support for countries in the region, and Canberra sent its foreign minister on a diplomatic tour to compete with China.
China’s attempts to form a pact did not generally receive the support of the 10 countries the Chinese minister visited, but Wang left behind a clear message of Beijing’s interest in the South Pacific region, and the visit New questions have been raised about how island nations will be able to manage the growing tensions between the great powers.
From the point of view of the United States and Australia, Beijing is improving its relations with the capitals of the island states under the pretext of negotiating infrastructure projects or modest security agreements, while increasing its military presence in the region.
US and Australia worried about China’s influence in the South Pacific
The United States operates several military bases in the South Pacific, and the US military has the right to use the airspace and territorial waters of some states in the region, including Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau.
Australia, for its part, operates its own naval forces in the region and has long had security and defense links with the governments of neighboring island states, including military and peacekeeping training.
The region was mentioned last week in a joint statement by President Joe Biden and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who expressed concern about “the establishment of a constant military presence in the Pacific by a state that does not share our values.”
“If China had the right to set up military bases, it could temporarily deploy warships and aircraft to the islands,” said Timothy Heath, RAND Corporation’s top international defense researcher.
“Their ships and planes could endanger nearby American and Australian ships and planes,” said Heath, adding that even in the absence of a military presence, China could “gather secret information about US and Australian military operations.” ”.
China’s interest in the Pacific islands is nothing new. In the early 2000s, as the United States turned its attention to the Middle East, Beijing began to form economic and diplomatic partnerships in the region, including in order to gain their trust and distance them from Taiwan.
Kiribati and the Solomon Islands have adopted China’s position on Taiwan
Currently, only four of the 14 nations in the South Pacific officially recognize Taiwan as an independent state after Solomon Islands and Kiribati adopted China’s position in 2019.
In recent years, Beijing has pursued a much more aggressive foreign policy and expanded its funding programs abroad. China has supported widely promoted projects in some Pacific countries, such as the construction of a Pacific Games stadium in Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea highways and Fiji bridges, and President Xi Jinping has visited the region twice. in 2014 and 2018.
Concerns about Beijing’s military ambitions in the region erupted in April after China and Solomon Islands signed a security agreement that raised concerns about the possibility of Beijing making its military presence felt in the country.
Chinese Foreign Minister hastened to deny that Beijing has hidden intentions and urged observers not to be “concerned” about China’s goals in the region, where the Chinese say they have “no intention of fighting for influence.” .
Editor: Raul Nețoiu
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