May 26, 2022: According to a report by AP, China wants 10 small Pacific nations to endorse a sweeping agreement covering everything from security to fisheries in what one leader warns is a “game-changing” bid by Beijing to wrest control of the region.
According to a draft of the document as seen by the AP, China wants to train Pacific police officers, team up on “traditional and non-traditional security” and expand law enforcement cooperation.
China also wants to jointly develop a marine plan for fisheries, which would include the Pacific’s lucrative tuna catch, increase cooperation on running the region’s internet networks and set up cultural Confucius Institutes and classrooms.
China also mentions the possibility of setting up a free trade area with the Pacific nations.
China’s move comes as Foreign Minister Wang Yi and a 20-person delegation begin a visit to the region this week.
In Washington, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price expressed concern on Wednesday about China’s intentions, saying Beijing might use the proposed accords to take advantage of the islands and destabilise the region.
“We are concerned that these reported agreements may be negotiated in a rushed, nontransparent process,” Price told reporters.
China’s Wang is visiting seven of the countries he hopes will endorse the “Common Development Vision” — the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.
Wang is also holding virtual meetings with the other three potential signatories, the Cook Islands, Niue and the Federated States of Micronesia.
Micronesia’s President, David Panuelo, has told leaders of the other Pacific nations his nation won’t endorse the plan, warning it would needlessly heighten geopolitical tensions and threaten regional stability. The country is finding itself increasingly caught between the competing interests of Washington and Beijing.
Micronesia has close ties to the US through a Compact of Free Association. But it also has what Panuelo describes in his letter as a “Great Friendship” with China that he hopes will continue despite his opposition to the agreement.
The agreement says the countries will strengthen “cooperation in the fields of traditional and non-traditional security” and will “expand law enforcement cooperation, jointly combat transnational crime, and establish a dialog mechanism on law enforcement capacity and police cooperation.”
The agreement would also see the nations “expand exchanges between governments, legislatures and political parties.”
The draft agreement also stipulates that the Pacific countries “firmly abide” by the one-China principle, under which Taiwan, a self-ruled island democracy, is considered by Beijing to be part of China.
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