SYDNEY, Australia — China is pursuing a regional agreement with Pacific island nations that would expand Beijing’s role in policing, maritime cooperation and cybersecurity while offering scholarships to more than 2,000 workers and young diplomats, according to documents obtained by DailyExpertNews.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has sent a draft of the deal to 10 Pacific countries ahead of a tour of the Pacific, which will meet with regional leaders in Fiji next week.
The documents cover a range of topics and appear to be a joint communiqué that Beijing wants the countries to adopt. They provide a detailed look at how Beijing is trying to win friends and gain greater access to the island chains that have long played a strategic role in the geopolitical struggle in Asia.
The visit and the agreement both appear to be aimed at countering US efforts to strengthen alliances in Asia.
Wang’s first stop is the Solomon Islands, where he will appear on Thursday to sign a security pact that has already put the Americans and the region on edge. And he visits just days after President Biden’s Quad meeting in Tokyo with the leaders of Australia, Japan and India, where the focus was on containing China’s regional influence.
“Wang Yi’s visit is, in my view, a direct challenge to the open and free Indo-Pacific,” said Solomon Islands deputy opposition leader Peter Kenilorea Jr.
China is trying to show the Pacific that while the United States and its allies are “talking about you” in their Quad meeting, it said Chinese officials are “here to talk to you directly.”
But, he added, China also made demands.
“A regional approach is a clear escalation of the CCP’s ambition in the Pacific,” said Mr. Kenilorea, referring to the ruling Communist Party of China.
It amounts to a rapid acceleration of a diplomatic push that has hitherto been largely focused on one country at a time. The leaked deal has the potential to draw multiple countries into Beijing’s orbit at once – if widely approved.
And there are signs that the bold approach could backfire. The Pacific islands span thousands of miles, with sparsely populated countries with a unique history and rivalry. Regional agreements usually take years to come about; Launching a complex proposal on the Pacific a week before Mr. Wang’s visit will be viewed with suspicion by many leaders.
Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo has already warned that the documents reflected nothing less than an attempt by China “to gain access to and control over our region.”
In a letter sent to 21 countries in the region last week, he wrote that the proposed language in the agreement “opens our countries to the interception and tapping of our phone calls and emails.”
He also noted that the regional agreement included a language that requires the Pacific islands to adhere to the “one China” principle. The Federated States of Micronesia have a defense agreement with the United States and an economic cooperation agreement with China. Giving China greater access to their country’s seas, countries, customs systems and digital networks, Mr Panuelo argued, increased the likelihood of China invading Taiwan and waging war with the United States, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
“Whoever wins in such a conflict, we will again be the collateral damage if we get caught in the crossfire of the larger countries,” he wrote.
And yet, his warning may not be heeded — in part because of what else the deal entails. There are offers for help in dealing with climate change, for development and for advanced police labs, and promises of at least 2,500 government grants over the next five years.
The educational giveaways show how Chinese diplomacy has evolved to more advanced in the Pacific in recent years. Instead of just offering loans for infrastructure, roads and bridges, China is now emphasizing its ability to provide vocational training and other forms of training — something the United States and its key allies, New Zealand and Australia, don’t do on the same scale. offer, if not at all.
Related to this, the proposed agreement in the Pacific also includes the promise of an even more direct link with Beijing: this year, if Covid allows it, the documents say, China promises to start a new training program for young diplomats from countries in the Pacific. It is part of a capacity building plan that also includes seminars on Chinese governance.
Some of the language in the documents is vague enough to allow countries to sign up and choose how they participate. For example, a section on ‘network management and cybersecurity’ calls on the parties to ‘take a balanced approach to technological progress, economic development and protection of national security and public interests’.
Some analysts said the proposal feels rushed and ad hoc, along with Mr Wang’s visit, which appears to have come about hastily, with Covid limiting travel and some stopovers still unconfirmed.
The Solomons deal, which could allow Beijing to send troops into the country to maintain stability or refuel naval vessels, gave China an opening, critics say. Now, they said, Beijing’s top diplomat is trying to leverage that across the region.
“If this feels like it, this is more opportunistic than a grand strategy,” said Jonathan Pryke, director of the Pacific Islands program at the Lowy Institute. “There is a lot of pressure in the Chinese system so wherever the foreign minister goes, a lot of action has to follow him. It looks like they’ve gained an inch in the Solomons and are trying to run a mile.”
But in a region where unexploded World War II bombs are still killing innocent people as recently as last year, anything that undermines stability increases fear and stirs opposition.
In the Solomon Islands, the country’s media association has vowed to boycott Mr Wang’s visit to Honiara, the capital, as the published schedule included a press conference on Thursday indicating that only one local journalist should be allowed to ask. just a single question.
“It is such a shame that Solomons is now being used by Beijing to push through their own regional ambitions and destabilize the order,” said Mr. Kenya.