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China’s Pacific Push Is Backfiring

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26.07.2022

The Pacific Islands region hasn’t had so much international attention since World War II. Thank China for that.

A document leaked in March revealed Beijing’s plan to ink a secret security agreement with the Solomon Islands. The deal authorizes China to regularly make warship visits and provide training and assistance for Solomon Islands policing. Worried that Beijing might leverage the deal to acquire its first military base in Oceania, the United States and Australia quickly dispatched envoys to dissuade Solomon Islander Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare from signing the agreement. He inked it anyway.

Then, in late May, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi embarked on a whirlwind 10-day, eight-country tour of the South Pacific to win concurrence on “China-Pacific Island Countries Common Development Vision,” a sweeping multilateral development and security agreement that would permanently enmesh Beijing in the region. In the end, Pacific Island foreign ministers rebuffed Chinese overtures, and Wang returned to Beijing empty-handed.

The Pacific Islands region hasn’t had so much international attention since World War II. Thank China for that.

A document leaked in March revealed Beijing’s plan to ink a secret security agreement with the Solomon Islands. The deal authorizes China to regularly make warship visits and provide training and assistance for Solomon Islands policing. Worried that Beijing might leverage the deal to acquire its first military base in Oceania, the United States and Australia quickly dispatched envoys to dissuade Solomon Islander Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare from signing the agreement. He inked it anyway.

Then, in late May, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi embarked on a whirlwind 10-day, eight-country tour of the South Pacific to win concurrence on “China-Pacific Island Countries Common Development Vision,” a sweeping multilateral development and security agreement that would permanently enmesh Beijing in the region. In the end, Pacific Island foreign ministers rebuffed Chinese overtures, and Wang returned to Beijing empty-handed.

Despite Wang’s failures, these events left traditional powers in the region—Australia, New Zealand, and the United States—rattled. But viewed from a broader perspective, China faces immense challenges toward achieving diplomatic, economic, or military parity with them, let alone primacy, in the Pacific.

The Solomon Islands deal, for instance, severely tarnished China’s image because of the way it was done. Rather than conducting secret bilateral negotiations, Beijing should have been transparent from the beginning—or pushed Honiara in this direction—to allow input from the premier multilateral organization in the region: the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF).

In the Pacific, consensus-based decision-making is crucial, particularly on issues that might affect the entire region. According to the 2000 Biketawa Declaration, regional crises must be coordinated and resolved from within the “Pacific family,” i.e. among the 18 members of PIF. In 2003, for example, the Solomon Islands dialed up fellow PIF members to deploy their police to help quell domestic unrest, an operation known as the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (or RAMSI).

This year, by contrast, the Solomon Islands faced no immediate unrest, though........

© Foreign Policy


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