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Scramble for Oceania - China

During the later part of the 19th Century, the "Scramble for Africa" engaged the Great Powers of Europe to accumulate territories in Africa, which looked good on a color-coded map [pink for Britain, etc], but which for the most part proved to be more trouble than they were worth. There was also a less noticed "Scramble for Oceania", in which Germany and Japan, and to a lesser extent the Soviet Union, vied against the Anglo-American hegemony in the Pacific.

Their financial and other problems make the support of Pacific states cheap for Beijing to buy. At the same time, their utility as a source of diplomatic recognition (particularly in the China and Taiwan tussle...), voting blocs in international forums, fishing and other maritime resources, and as possible sites for port facilities or even military bases, means that relatively small investments in these countries can have a major longer-term payoffs for countries such as China.

PRC military theorists conceive of two island "chains" as forming a geographic basis for China's maritime defensive perimeter. The precise boundaries of these chains have never been officially defined by the Chinese government, and so are subject to some specualtion. By one account, China's "green water" extends eastward in the Pacific Ocean out to the first island chain, which is formed by the Aleutians, the Kuriles, Japan's archipelago, the Ryukyus, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Borneo. Further eastward is "blue water" extending to the second island chain running from the north at the Bonin Islands and moving southward through the Marianas, Guam, and the Caroline Islands.

A secure Micronesia protects sea lines of communication between the U.S. and Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean. They form anouter barrier of protection for Guam and the Hawaiian Islands, and are home to critical forwardbases of military operations and a vital ballistic missile tracking facility as the Pacific Rim risesin importance.

But ".... as China opened three decades ago, an estimated 200,000 Chinese migrants left the mainland to settle in the fragilely governed, economically moribund South Pacific islands. Over the intervening years those migrants prospered, though at the same time they resisted cultural assimilation, establishing thriving, culturally separate “Chinatowns” and ethnically exclusive business networks.... But as the old political and economic order shifts, disenfranchised native islanders are growing resentful, harboring deep-seated suspicions of the “new” Chinese arrivals. Given the right trigger, this simmering racial tension explodes into extreme violence.

"In 2006, rioters in Honiara, the Solomon Islands’ capital, burned 97 percent of the local Chinatown district. The same year, race riots in the Tongan Island archipelago left eight dead, and in the capital city of Nuku’alofa, much of the Chinese-dominated business district was destroyed. In Papua New Guinea, anti-Chinese rioting, reportedly involving tens of thousands of people, broke out in May 2009.... Modern precedent is set; when U.S. or Western nationals are threatened, U.S. Marines inevitably appear off the coast to provide security assistance ... The United States and the international community can only expect a concomitant response when Chinese citizens overseas are endangered. ... At present, nothing is in place to dissuade China from transforming an operation to protect Chinese nationals into an annexation..."

The South Pacific has been a diplomatic battleground for Beijing and Taipei. But as China's economic influence has expanded in recent years it has managed to gain diplomatic recognition at the expense of Taiwan, which China regards as part of its territory. The Chinese are basically interested in their natural resources and maybe getting support from these countries in international fora. Other than that, their idea is to make sure that none of these countries switch diplomatic recognition from Beijing to Taiwan. And for those countries which currently recognize Taiwan, their main aim is to basically buy recognition of these countries. These six South Pacific nations are: Kiribati, Marshall islands, Nauru, Palau, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.

Diplomacy and aid in the Pacific region are intrinsically linked as the PRC and Taiwan compete for recognition, often utilising the blunt foreign policy tool of aid payments. Among some Pacific Island nations, competition between the PRC and Taiwan for diplomatic recognition has, on occasion, appeared to take on the characteristics of a bidding war, conducted mainly through bilateral 'aid' payments. This problem can be exacerbated when the practice of gift giving, an important aspect of many Pacific Island cultures, is exploited. Being relatively poor and tending to lack the appropriate institutional mechanisms to ensure political and bureaucratic accountability, many Pacific islands are vulnerable to financial influence and corruption.

China has diplomatic relations with eight South Pacific island nations; the Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu. A contest with Taiwan saw ‘checkbook diplomacy’ come to the fore in the region, as Beijing and Taipei offered inducements in return for political recognition. The spending contest largely came to an end in 2008, when Taiwanese authorities struck a deal with Beijing.

In April 2006 the PRC has launched an ambitious, high profile outreach to the Pacific Island nations through a large-scale regional development conference and trade fair it is sponsoring in Fiji April 5-6. Premier Wen Jiabao came to Fiji to open the conference, to which Ministers (and some heads of state) from all sixteen Pacific Island Forum (PIF) members were invited through the auspices of the PIF Secretariat. In addition, the PRC hoped all Pacific states with which it has diplomatic relations will initial a draft "Guiding Framework" on China-Pacific Island economic cooperation prior to the conference.

The PRC-drafted "Guiding Framework" for China-Pacific Island cooperation was a very ambitious document. It called for increased numbers of high-level visits and exchanges between China and the Pacific countries. It envisioned enhanced cooperation between China and Pacific Island states in trade, investment, agriculture, fisheries, tourism, transportation, finance, infrastructure development, natural resources, and human resource development. The document suggested that China and the Pacific Island states should coordinate positions, wherever possible, in the WTO and other multilateral trade fora and "actively implement bilateral trade agreements." It called for the signing of bilateral investment and taxation agreements. Finally, the draft document sought to promote PRC-Pacific Island joint ventures in agriculture, fisheries, tourism, financial services, etc.

In April 2006 more than 300 Chinese were brought home from riot-torn Solomon Islands. More than 200 Chinese nationals were airlifted from trouble-torn Tonga on a chartered plane 23 November 2006. Hundreds of Chinese made their way to Tonga's neighboring country Fiji to board an Air China aircraft sent by Beijing.

The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs Office of North America and Oceania Affairs implements China's foreign policy and principles. It reports and works on China's bilateral relations with countries and regions concerned, manages diplomatic contacts with and makes representations to relevant countries and regions, oversees and coordinates policies on and cooperation and exchanges with relevant countries and regions and guides the operation of China's overseas diplomatic missions within its regional jurisdiction. It is responsible for translation and interpretation for important diplomatic functions, documents and instruments in relevant languages.

On 08 November 2013, Wang Yang, Vice Premier of the State Council of the People's Republic of China, spoke at the Second China-Pacific Island Countries Economic Development and Cooperation Forum. "As the sole high-level collective dialogue and cooperation mechanism between China and Pacific island countries, the Forum serves as an important platform for the two sides to deepen mutual understanding, friendship and cooperation. Since the launch of the Forum in 2006, thanks to the concerted efforts of all sides, our cooperation have made encouraging progress in all fields. In the past seven years, our trade has grown at a robust annual rate of 27% on average, topping US$4.5 billion in 2012. Nearly 150 Chinese companies are now operating in Pacific island countries with a total investment of nearly US$1 billion and the contract value of projects exceeding US$5 billion. ... Last year, Chinese tourists made nearly 70,000 visits to Pacific island countries. ...

"China will provide US$1 billion in concessional loans to the Pacific island countries having diplomatic ties with China for major production projects, and infrastructure and welfare programs. China Development Bank will offer a special loan of US$1 billion to support infrastructure development in these countries.... We will give zero-tariff treatment to 95% of the products from the least developed Pacific island countries, support Pacific island businesses in participating in exhibitions and promotion activities in China and create favorable conditions for their competitive products to enter the Chinese market."

In 2014, China and Fiji signed a memorandum of understanding between their military forces when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Nadi, vowing increased defense cooperation. Washington may have been behind Canberra and Wellington's 2014 detente with Suva, ending the years of sanctions that followed Fiji's 2006 military coup.

In March 2015, the first comprehensive study of China's growing aid program in the South Pacific found that Beijing provided financial assistance worth more than a billion dollars in the past decade. China is poised to overtake Japan as the region's third-biggest donor after Australia and the United States, according to the Sydney-based Lowy Institute for International Policy.

The Lowy Institute considered China’s aid to the South Pacific mostly to be a good deed by a responsible global citizen. The financial assistance was also seen as a way to ease friction. Researchers said that an influx of Chinese companies and migrants has caused tensions with islander communities. Fishing, both legal and illegal, by Chinese boats is of particular concern, along with mining operations.

Beijing’s loans do not come cheap. “Such indebtedness gives China significant leverage over Pacific Island countries and may see China place pressure on Pacific nations to convert loans into equity in infrastructure,” the Lowy Institute’s recent Safeguarding Australia’s Security Interests report warns. “It’s not ‘win — win’ for China and the recipient, but simply ‘win’ for China, which not only gets access to local resources and new markets, and forward presence, but can coerce the recipient state to pay a ‘tribute’ to Beijing by ceding local assets when it can’t pay back its debts,” the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Dr Malcolm Davis notes.

China wants a ‘buffer zone’ between itself and the US.

  • FIJI: After a 2006 military coup, Australia — among others — imposed sanctions on Fiji until it returned to democratic rule. China, which places such restrictions, stepped in with loans for infrastructure projects built by Chinese labor. While not entirely welcomed by the populace, it gave Beijing significant influence among Fiji’s leaders.
  • PAPUA NEW GUINEA: Military officers have been invited to China to attend training courses. In early 2018, Papua New Guinea officially joined the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and became the first Pacific island state to sign a memorandum of understanding with China on BRI cooperation.
  • SAMOA: Beijing is pressuring this island nation to repay its debts.
  • SOLOMON ISLANDS: In early 2018, Australian Prime Minister Turnbull promised the Solomons (and Papua New Guinea) that Australia would pay for a new undersea internet cable in place of the state-controlled Chinese telco giant Huawei, as well as relieve the island nations of the financial burden.
  • TONGA: In 2013, 64 percent of Tonga’s foreign debt was owed to China. That amounted to 43 percent of its annual GDP. Previously, Tonga had said it may have to seek a write-off of this burden by allowing Beijing to establish a naval base on the island. In November 2018 Tonga became the newest member of the China-led investment initiative known as the “Belt and Road,” with China, in turn, deferring Tonga’s payments on its existing debt. The Kingdom of Tonga has reached a loan agreement with China to restructure its debt payments ahead of a looming deadline. Beijing appears to have agreed to defer Tonga's payments in exchange for the Pacific kingdom's long-term participation in its foreign investment scheme — which some critics see as the main vehicle for the so-called "yuan diplomacy."
  • VANUATU: Vanuatu owes Beijing some US$1.7 billion. In early 2018, reports that China was seeking a ‘permanent military presence’ on the island sparked alarm in Australia. Vanuatu and China both denied that such proposal was on offer. But Australian Prime Minister Turnbull sounded unconvinced: “We would view with great concern the establishment of any foreign military bases in those Pacific island countries and neighbours of ours,” he said. Vanuatu’s newly built $85 million Luganville wharf, which was funded by China and seems more suited to navy vessels than cruise ships. In November 2018 Vanuatu became another new member of the China-led “Belt and Road” initiative.
  • Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands - Chinese companies have ramped up their investments into the CNMI, a U.S. territory just north of Guam and a strategic asset for the U.S. military. Following CNMI’s legalization of gambling in 2014 to help meet a public pension shortfall, Hong Kong-based investment firm Imperial Pacific International Holdings announced plans to invest $7 billion in a casino resort in Saipan—the largest of CNMI’s islands.

The Chinese Communist Party is on a mission to create what its leader, Xi Jinping, calls a Community of Common Destiny. China has so far issued development loans to eight Pacific island-nations, including Tonga. Beijing has touted its loans as "no strings attached," at least, politically — as opposed to the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) programs. The IMF has persistently demanded market-oriented reforms, fiscal sustainability, and macro-prudential policies from its loan recipients. For its part, China hasn't presented any such demands to its borrowers. However, over the past few years, many of China's investment partners have severed their diplomatic ties with the Republic of China on Taiwan, recognising Mainland China as the only legitimate Chinese government. By November 2018 Tonga and Vanuatu joined the ranks of Pacific Belt and Road partners Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Fiji, Niue and the Cook Islands.

On 21 October 2021, the first foreign ministers' meeting of China and Pacific Island Countries was held via video link. It was attended by senior representatives from China, Kiribati, Fiji, Tonga, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Federated States of Micronesia, Solomon Islands, and Samoa. Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Henry Puna attended the meeting.

Six-point consensus was reached at the meeting. First,the need to enhance mutual trust and continue to understand and support one another on the issues concerning each other's core interests. Second, the need to continue enhancing anti-pandemic cooperation, ensuring people's health and safety, and achieving complete victory over the pandemic together. Third, the need to support the Global Development Initiative, advance high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, and promote shared development and revitalization. Fourth, the need to work together to tackle global challenges, and expand and deepen cooperation on climate change, marine environment protection and other issues. Fifth, the need to uphold and practice multilateralism, and safeguard the international system with the UN at its core and the international order based on international law. Sixth, the need to establish a regular meeting mechanism of China-Pacific Island Countries foreign ministers and promote the long-term and steady operation of the mechanism.

Concrete outcomes were achieved at the meeting, which include the establishment of a China-Pacific Island Countries reserve of emergency supplies, a poverty reduction and development cooperation center, and climate action cooperation center as well as the convening of a China-Pacific Island Countries fisheries cooperation and development forum. The meeting also put forth and focused on the discharge of the nuclear contaminated water, and reiterated the commitment to maintaining the international non-proliferation system and the South Pacific Nuclear-Free Zone.

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Page last modified: 30-11-2021 13:07:02 ZULU