Chinese Pacific Island diplomacy could complicate relations with Japan

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China’s recent attempt to strengthen its influence over Pacific island countries is likely to further complicate relations with its neighbor Japan, a close US ally in Asia, likely jeopardizing the security situation in the region.

If China gains a military foothold in the island nations, the United States will have to monitor the southern Pacific Ocean more closely, which could undermine deterrence against Beijing in the South China Sea and waters near Taiwan and the United States. Japan.

(Kyodo)

The escalation of tensions between the two major world powers in the Pacific region would also accelerate the division of the world into two blocs – the western democratic countries led by the United States and what they call autocratic nations like China and the Russia.

As Japan deepens its cooperation with the United States to deal with a possible threat from Communist China, the two Asian countries would end up competing more intensely to defend their interests in the region, increasing security instability in Asia. from the East at the level of danger, foreigners say business experts.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s leadership has attempted to bolster its security and economic influence in the Asia-Pacific region with the apparent aim of challenging the so-called Quad, comprising the United States, Australia, India and the Japan.

While the Quad is widely seen as a counterweight to China’s growing assertiveness, members pointed to it as a group deepening what it calls “practical cooperation” in areas such as infrastructure, climate change and critical technologies.

But China’s ruling Communist Party tabloid, the Global Times, slammed the United States and its security allies for working to build an “anti-China alliance in Asia” and ultimately form a “NATO Asia”, or the North Atlantic Treaty. Organization.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is touring eight Pacific island countries for 10 days until next Saturday, was quoted by his ministry as saying last week that Pacific island nations were not “nobody’s backyard”.

In 2019, the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, both located in the South Pacific region, switched diplomatic ties with China from democratic Taiwan – the self-governing island that Beijing sees as a renegade province to be reunited with the mainland by force. if necessary.

Earlier this year, China and the Solomon Islands signed a security pact, which would allow the deployment of Chinese police, military and other armed personnel, as well as the docking of the Asian country’s military ships in the islands.

Speculation is rife that China may also be keen to strike a security deal with Kiribati, located between Australia and Hawaii – the US island state which has a large number of military bases.

Screenshot from the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Weibo account showing a meeting of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (center) and his counterparts from Pacific island nations in Fiji on May 30, 2022. (Kyodo)

Economically, several Pacific island countries, including Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu, have participated in China’s “Belt and Road” cross-border infrastructure project. ” which Beijing presents as the “modern silk road”.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, the government’s top spokesman, on Monday expressed distrust of China’s attempt to strengthen ties with island nations, saying: “We are watching with concern moves that may have a significant impact on the regional security environment”.

A Japanese government source said the South Pacific region is “very important” to achieving a free and open Indo-Pacific, a vision promoted by Tokyo and Washington to counter Beijing.

The region has “precisely become a site of conflict between a camp of countries advocating liberalism and that of nations pursuing totalitarianism,” the source said, adding, “The possibility cannot be ruled out that danger is approaching Taiwan and from Japan”.

As Xi’s rulers have already built artificial islands with military infrastructure in the South China Sea, home to some of the world’s busiest sea lanes, it is easy for Beijing to quickly deploy the country’s forces to the South China region. South Pacific, experts say.

So far, however, China has encountered difficulties in achieving its goals in the Pacific island nations, which primarily emphasize democracy, freedom and the rule of law, in the face of resistance from the states. United and their allies.

Last week, Quad leaders agreed to expand more than $50 billion in infrastructure aid and investment across the Indo-Pacific over the next five years.

During Wang’s trip to Pacific island countries, the White House said Fiji had joined the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework recently launched by President Joe Biden’s administration, along with 13 countries such as Australia, India, Japan and South Korea.

Australian media, meanwhile, reported on Monday that China had failed to persuade Pacific island countries to sign a pact covering a wide range of issues from trade to security, with Micronesia fearing the move could triggers “a new cold war”.

A diplomatic source in Beijing said Pacific island nations “did not reach a consensus” on China’s political proximity, adding, “There remains a chance for democratic countries to thwart China’s ambitions in the region”.

“It is crucial to drive a wedge in the relationship between China and the Solomon Islands. I believe that Japan can play a key role in this, given that Tokyo has strengthened friendly ties” with the island nation, the source said. .

Japan has hosted the Pacific Islands Leaders’ Meeting every three years since 1997, focusing on issues ranging from climate change and disaster management to the sustainable use of marine resources. The Solomon Islands are part of the gathering.

Shigeru Toyama, Japan’s former ambassador to the Solomon Islands, said in a report to the Japan Institute of International Affairs that Tokyo’s activities on the world stage have “always” been supported by the island country.

To maintain mutually beneficial relations with the Solomon Islands, Japan should enhance bilateral cooperation by providing aid that can meet the island nation’s needs “both in quality and quantity,” Toyama said.


Related coverage:

China fails to persuade Pacific island nations to sign security pact

Fiji joins US-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework to offset China

China pledges to ‘firmly’ support Solomon Islands on security


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