Honiara [Solomon Islands]May 18 (ANI): Even as Australia and other nations try to defy China’s recent moves in the Pacific to sign a security pact with the Solomon Islands, the Asian giant’s expansion is attributed to the strong economic ties it forges with the small island countries.
For countries like Australia and New Zealand, as well as the US, throwing aid and little else at the islands may no longer be enough to keep them on their side as China pushes forward with a seductive mix of money, security and ceremony. Asia Nikkei reported.
“One thing China is very good at is cultivating those relationships at the political level with Pacific Island leaders,” said Mihai Sora, a researcher at the Lowy Institute think tank and a former Australian diplomat stationed in the Solomon Islands and Indonesia.
At the same time, he said, China’s relations in the Pacific “are not based on aid, they are based on trade, they are based on economics.” In the case of the Solomon Islands, China accounted for 64.4 percent of exports and 34.4 percent of imports in 2020, the report said, citing the latest data from the Observatory of Economic Complexity.
Additionally, a 2020 Brookings Institution report by Jonathan Pryke noted that two-way trade between China and the Pacific region had surpassed that of Australia since 2013, excluding Papua New Guinea.
“Pacific island countries cannot be asked to choose between income and an alliance (of) like-minded powers,” Sora said. “Better diplomacy is part of the answer, but it is not the whole answer.” as loans to prop up pandemic-hit Pacific economies, Western allies are keeping the blows flowing, the report said.
There has also been speculation that China is using the COVID-19 pandemic and its vaccine diplomacy to expand its reach in these Pacific countries.
Last July, China accused Australia of interfering with its vaccine assistance to Papua New Guinea, alleging that Australian consultants were using “political manipulation and intimidation” to hinder the launch. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Australia should “stop disrupting and undermining vaccine cooperation between China and Pacific Island countries,” a charge Australia rejected, Asia Nikkei reported.
China denies exploiting the pandemic to bolster its influence or engage in vaccine diplomacy. “China’s vaccine assistance for [the] Solomon Islands is sincere, no strings attached,” Ambassador Li said last July. “China never pursues ‘vaccine diplomacy’ and has no intention of competing with any other country in vaccine assistance.” When asked if The recent security deal between China and the Solomon Islands came as a surprise, a former senior New Zealand official told Asia Nikkei on condition of anonymity: “Not at all.” The former official noted that China’s ambitions in the Pacific had been visible for some time.
With or without a base, the pact is seen as a potential game changer. In a Brookings article, foreign policy analyst Patricia Kim raised the question of whether it “heralds the rise of a more activist China that is now willing to provide military support to other states in their concerted search for allies.” forging more comprehensive relationships, with countries like the US, Australia, Japan and New Zealand pooling resources into “large-scale infrastructure projects and projects that generate a security dividend and an economic dividend,” Sora suggested.
Some steps are already being taken with local Australian media reporting last year that the country was ready to dole out hundreds of millions of dollars for projects in the Pacific, according to the report.
Last Thursday, a joint declaration from a summit between the European Union and Japan pledged to deepen “ties with Pacific Island countries to strengthen good governance and resilience.” daily necessities, according to the report.
“Whether or not China establishes a military base in the Pacific,” Sora said, adding, “it really does not solve the daily development needs and the subsistence, education and health needs of the people in the Solomon Islands.” (AND ME)