China ‘risks new Cold War’ as it pursues strategic alliances that would encircle the Pacific
Beijing has been accused of risking a new ‘cold war’ with the West after it emerged that China’s foreign minister was pursuing a regional deal with nearly a dozen Pacific islands, including enhanced cooperation in matters of security.
The five-year plan signals Beijing’s intention to significantly expand its footprint in the Indo-Pacific region. It is expected to be discussed by Wang Yi and his Pacific counterparts in Fiji on May 30, as the Chinese foreign minister begins a tour of the region from Thursday.
But in a letter sent to 21 Pacific leaders, David Panuelo, the president of the Federated States of Micronesia, said his country would argue that the “pre-determined joint communiqué” should be rejected because it could spark a new “cold war” between the China. and the West, according to Reuters.
The plan would move the Pacific islands that have diplomatic relations with China “very close to Beijing’s orbit, intrinsically tying all of our economies and societies to them”, he added.
Fears are growing that up to 10 Pacific nations could strike a security pact similar to that struck by the Solomon Islands and China last month, heightening fears that Beijing wants to establish a naval base in the strategic territory of the Peaceful.
The new plan will throw newly elected Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, who was sworn in on Monday, into an early confrontation with Mr Wang.
“China has made its intentions clear. The same goes for the intentions of the new Australian government,” Ms Wong said in a message sent to the Sydney Morning Herald from the government plane.
Ms Wong said the Pacific would be a top Canberra foreign policy priority after she described the Solomons deal – which could allow Chinese warships to dock within 1,200 of Australia’s coast – as the most great Australian strategic error since the Second World War.
Beijing has dismissed protests against its Honiara deal, denying it would threaten Australia’s security and accusing Western countries of interfering in the Solomons’ sovereign decision-making.
Wang arrives in Honiara, the Solomons’ capital, on Thursday to kick off an extensive tour of eight Pacific island countries with which China has diplomatic ties.
Ms Wong will make her own trip to Fiji on Thursday, the first of a dozen visits to the Pacific over the next six weeks.
The draft document “China-Pacific Island Countries Joint Development Vision” aims to “strengthen exchanges and cooperation in the fields of traditional and non-traditional security”, as well as strengthen cooperation between police forces and building cybersecurity systems and data networks.
It is also proving controversial within the Pacific nations themselves.
The United States and China compete for influence
WSF chief Panuelo has long warned of the risk of Pacific countries being caught up in geopolitical conflict as the United States and China vie for influence in the region.
His country is one of three countries closely bound to the United States by treaties known as the Compacts of Free Association (COFA), which grant the Pentagon virtually unlimited military access in return for a security guarantee, but it also maintains formal relations with China.
In an interview with the Telegraph in October, President Panuelo acknowledged the security challenge but said he hoped to overlap the interests of competing superpowers, urging them to cooperate on climate change.
“With the United States and China, I tell them to compete but in responsible terms. Compete on trade and improve our environment,” he said, adding that the climate crisis trumps traditional security as the “greatest existential threat” to the world.