China’s sweeping regional deal shelved after Pacific foreign ministers meet Wang Yi

  • Whatsapp

Pacific countries have declined to sign up to a sweeping regional economic and security deal proposed by China, after a crucial meeting of Pacific foreign ministers and their Chinese counterpart on Monday.

Read More

China’s foreign minister Wang Yi is in the middle of a marathon tour of the region, visiting eight countries in 10 days, a trip that security experts have said represents a dramatic “uptick in tempo” of China’s push for influence in the region.

On Monday he held a virtual summit in Fiji with foreign ministers from Pacific countries at which the region-wide deal was discussed.

The deal, which was leaked last week, covers everything from a free trade area with the region, to providing humanitarian and Covid relief. It also lays out China’s vision for a much closer relationship with the Pacific, especially on security matters, with China proposing it would be involved in training police, cybersecurity, sensitive marine mapping and gaining greater access to natural resources.

At a press event after the meeting, attended by Wang and Fiji’s prime minister Frank Bainimarama, China confirmed the deal had been shelved for now.

China’s ambassador to Fiji said that while there had been “general support” for the agreement among foreign ministers, it had been put aside after some Pacific countries voiced concerns.

Bainimarama also alluded to dissent among some countries at the meeting, saying the group had a “consensus first” approach. After the meeting Wang said that China would release a position paper to shape consensus and cooperation.

The rejection of the deal comes after Wang touched down in Fiji on Friday as part of a diplomatic tour through the region. He met with Bainimarama on Monday, a summit that both leaders said had been successful.

The two countries signed at least three agreements after the meeting, which Wang said would expand cooperation over the economy, trade, agriculture, fisheries, tourism, civil aviation, education, law enforcement, and emergency management.

At a press event on Monday afternoon, at which questions from media were not allowed, Wang said that China would provide assistance to Pacific Island countries with “no political strings attached”.

Bainimarama reaffirmed the importance of climate change to the Pacific, saying that Pacific nations were not interested in “geopolitical point-scoring” given the threats of climate change and the pandemic. He said he had urged China to make stronger commitments on the climate crisis, something he does when dealing with all major economies.

The leak of the proposed regional deal came just one month after the signing of a controversial bilateral security deal signed by Solomon Islands and China, that caused huge alarm across the West, prompting high-level diplomatic visits from Australia, New Zealand and the US all of whom sought to urge the Solomon Islands government not to sign it.

Solomon Islands was Wang’s first stop on his eight-country tour last week, before he went on to Kiribati and met with president, Taneti Maamau.

A Kiribati official, who was not authorised to speak to media, said the pair had discussed fisheries, education and health, as well as trade and tourism opportunities, and that a security arrangement between the countries was not on the cards.

Samoa, which Wang visited on Saturday, signed a bilateral agreement with China promising “greater collaboration”. The details of the deal have not yet emerged.

The Samoan government confirmed in a press release on Saturday that Wang and the Samoan prime minister, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, had met and discussed “climate change, the pandemic and peace and security”.

Local media were invited to witness the signing of a deal, but no questions were taken.

The Samoan release said China would continue to provide infrastructural development support to various Samoan sectors and there would be a new framework for future projects “to be determined and mutually agreed”.

After Fiji, Wang is scheduled to visit Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste.

In a duel for influence, Australia’s new foreign minister, Penny Wong, was in Fiji on Friday, reaffirming Australia’s commitment to the region and promoting the new government’s more ambitious targets on emissions reduction. Climate change, which is an acute existential threat to Pacific island nations, has been a point of tension in the relationship between the Pacific and Australia, which has been seen as a laggard on climate action.

The prime minister of Fiji praised Wong after the meeting, saying he had a “wonderful meeting” with Wong after she travelled to the country in her first solo overseas visit since being sworn in.

Related posts

Laisser un commentaire

Votre adresse e-mail ne sera pas publiée.