Leaders of the pacific islands have decided that “countries that wanted to partner with us need to treat them with respect.” They also need to take action against climate change.
Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, is moving closer to the end of a marathon tour that has taken him to eight states. He will be visiting the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, and Timor-Leste on Saturday.
Wang will bring along multiple bilateral agreements in development and economics, but he will not return to China bearing the most significant prize – a comprehensive security agreement. This could result in a restructuring of the political landscape for the Pacific. However, the 10 Pacific states refused to sign at the virtual meeting on Monday. Pacific leaders considered the Chinese offer in the Pacific Consensus process decision-making method; carefully and sensitively, they weighed their decision and declined to accept the proposal, much relieved by traditional partners.
China underestimated the collective response of Pacific nations to an agreement to obtain their signatures. Some observers attribute it to Penny Wong, Australia’s new foreign minister.
Chinese say the blame lies with “a handful of people in these nations, under the pressure & coercion of the US & former colonizer.” Many have widely misinterpreted this to be directed at the President of Federated States of Micronesia. He warned other Pacific leaders of the possibility of erosion of sovereignty and instability if the deal was signed.
The Pacific leaders’ rejection was not a sign of weakness but a clear message to all actors that they don’t want to play pawns in geopolitical settings.
Frank Bainimarama from Fiji is very direct about this point. After Penny Wong’s visit last week, he tweeted his thanks to Wang and Penny Wong while urging Australia, China, and Australia to take a more decisive approach to the climate crisis.
“Geopolitical scoring is not important to anyone whose community falls under the rising oceans,” he stated. China has not lost its resolve. It is expected that China will send another diplomatic wave to the region.
China’s incredible economic growth has allowed a dictatorial state to expand its global influence. It has made the Pacific an integral part of its expansionist agenda. Pacific island nations account for around 28% of global economic exclusion areas (EEZs). They also have rights to large amounts of the global marine resources, something that China clearly wants to see through the proposed region deal.
They attempted to achieve a regional consensus regarding the China-way. However, they forgot the crucial role and importance that the Pacific Islands Forum plays in the region.
The forum is in a very stressful moment. Last year, Micronesian diplomats threatened with leaving the forum’s principal diplomatic body. China tried to get 10 Pacific island members on board the deal. This could have increased regional tensions.
Samoa’s prime minister said that China’s regional deal should have been submitted for consideration to PIF and not to a sub meeting. You can see why China tried to bypass the process. China, unlike Australia and New Zealand, is not a PIF member. Furthermore, even if the deal were brought before all PIF members, including those that recognize Taiwanese as diplomatically recognized, it is unlikely that it would pass.