‘No’ to the big deal but ‘yes’ to bilateral pacts . . .
At a virtual meeting of the leaders of 10 Pacific Island countries and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi earlier this week, the Pacific countries rejected a sweeping multilateral security and economic co-operation deal put forward by Beijing. Pacific Island leaders gave several reasons for not signing on, including discomfort with some terms of the deal, insufficient consultation, not being given adequate time to consider the agreement’s implications, and a lack of consensus. The overture comes as Foreign Minister Wang conducts a diplomatic push that includes visiting eight Pacific Island countries. Although the multilateral deal stalled, several Pacific countries signed smaller bilateral deals with Beijing, including Samoa and Kiribati.
Australia responds . . .
Foreign Minister Wang’s ambitious visit to the region has prompted Australia to kick-start its renewed Pacific engagement. Australia’s new Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, sworn in 10 days ago after the Australian general election, visited Fiji last week and is currently visiting Samoa and Tonga. These engagements are in large part to demonstrate Australia’s support for its ‘Pacific family’ in the face of Beijing’s overtures and to position Australia as a credible long-term partner with deep historical ties in the region. Wong’s top-line message is that Australia is newly committed to supporting Pacific countries in mitigating the effects of climate change, something Pacific countries view as an existential threat.
Restrictions on journalists . . .
One aspect of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang’s tour that soured opinion across the Pacific is Beijing’s hostility toward local journalists. It is customary in Pacific countries for journalists to cover the visits of foreign dignitaries in a relatively open manner, with media passes issued by local authorities. However, local journalists have described the arrangements for Foreign Minister Wang’s visit as being tightly controlled, with access determined by Chinese officials. Frequently, journalists have not been permitted to ask questions at post-meeting press conferences, and local journalists have described Chinese officials standing in front of video cameras to prevent recording. If such requirements are indicative of how China hopes to engage with Pacific countries, more public and civil society resistance should be expected.
- Australian Broadcasting Corporation: China to continue pushing for Pacific Island nations to sign regional trade and security agreement
- BBC: Have China's Pacific ambitions been thwarted?
- The Guardian: China’s Wang Yi visits Papua New Guinea amid tensions over election