SYDNEY (Reuters) – China will seek a region-wide agreement with nearly a dozen Pacific island nations covering police, security and data communications cooperation when Foreign Minister Wang Yi hosts a meeting in Fiji next week, documents seen by Reuters showed.
A draft statement and five-year action plan sent by China to 10 Pacific islands before a meeting of foreign ministers on May 30 has drawn opposition from at least one of the invited countries, which it says shows China’s intent to dominate the region and “threatens regional stability.”
In a letter to 21 Pacific leaders seen by Reuters, Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo said his country would push for the “pre-determined joint statement” to be rejected, as he feared it could spark a new “Cold War” between China and the West.
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In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States was aware of Wang Yi’s plans and was “concerned that these reported agreements might be negotiated in an expedited and opaque process.”
He said China’s recent security deals were made with little regional consultation, sparking concern in the United States and across the region.
“We do not believe that importing security forces and methods from the People’s Republic of China will help any Pacific island country,” he said. “Doing so can only aim to inflame regional and international tension and raise concerns about Beijing’s expansion of its domestic apparatus in the Pacific.”
Wang will visit eight Pacific island countries with which China has diplomatic relations from May 26 to June 4.
On Thursday, he arrived in the Solomon Islands, which recently signed a security pact with China despite the objections of Australia, the United States, Japan and New Zealand, all of which fear it could destabilize regional security and give China a military foothold in the Pacific.
China rejects this, saying that the agreement focuses on controlling internal security and that criticism from Western countries was an interference in the sovereign decision-making of Solomon Island. Read more
Asked to respond to the message first reported by Reuters, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular media briefing in Beijing that he was not aware of this, adding that China and the South Pacific countries are “good friends and partners in mutual respect and equality.” mutual benefit and common development.”
“I absolutely do not agree with the argument that cooperation between China and the South Pacific island nations will launch a new cold war,” he added.
Wang’s visit will “enhance political mutual trust, expand practical cooperation, deepen people-to-people ties, and build a closer community of destiny among China’s Pacific island nations.”
The government of the Federated States of Micronesia, which has a defense pact with the United States as well as an economic cooperation pact with China, declined to comment to Reuters on the letter.
Price, a US State Department spokesman, said that Washington respects the ability of countries in the region to make sovereign decisions that serve the interests of their people, adding, in reference to China:
“It is noteworthy that the PRC has a pattern of offering opaque and opaque deals with little transparency or regional consultation in areas related to fisheries, related to resource management, development assistance and, most recently, even security practices.”
A region-wide agreement covering security and trade between China and the Pacific Islands would mark a shift in Beijing’s focus from bilateral relations to dealing with the Pacific on a multilateral basis.
China distributed a draft of the China-Pacific Island Countries Common Development Vision Document, as well as a five-year work plan, before the Fiji meeting.
It states that China and the Pacific Islands will “strengthen exchanges and cooperation in the fields of conventional and non-traditional security.”
“China will hold medium and high-level police training for Pacific island countries through bilateral and multilateral means,” the document said.
The action plan sets out a ministerial dialogue on law enforcement capacity and police cooperation in 2022, and China provides forensic laboratories.
The draft statement also pledged to collaborate on data networks, cyber security, smart customs systems and to “take a balanced approach” to the Pacific islands on technological progress, economic development and national security.
Banned from 5G networks operated by several US allies, Chinese telecommunications company Huawei has repeatedly been frustrated in attempts to build submarine cables or operate mobile networks in the Pacific by Australia and the United States, which have offered competing bids for critical infrastructure. under the pretext of national security.
The statement also proposes a free trade area between China and the Pacific Islands, and supports action on climate change and health.
In his message to other leaders, Panuelo said the statement would bring the Pacific islands that have diplomatic relations with China “very close to Beijing’s orbit, intrinsically connecting our entire economies and societies with it.”
He highlighted the danger of falling into conflict as tensions escalate between the United States and China over Taiwan. Read more
“However, the practical implications of Chinese control of our communications infrastructure, ocean lands and resources within them, and our security space, apart from the effects on our sovereignty, are that they increase the chances of China entering into conflict with Australia, Japan, the United States and New Zealand,” he said. .
He added that China’s provision of customs regulations would lead to “biological data collection and mass monitoring of the entry, entry and exit of residents of our islands.”
He also criticized Australia’s lack of action on climate change.
New Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese pledged this week to increase climate finance for the Pacific islands, saying climate change is the main economic and security challenge. Read more
“China has made its intentions clear,” Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said when asked about the Reuters report.
“So are the intentions of the new Australian government. We want to help build a stronger family in the Pacific. We want to bring new energy and more resources to the Pacific.”
Wong, who is traveling to Fiji on Thursday, pledged to increase opportunities for Pacific Islanders to work and immigrate to Australia.
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(Reporting by Kirsty Needham). Additional reporting by Martin Pollard in Beijing, Daphne Psalidakis, Simon Lewis and David Bronstrom in Washington. Editing by Lincoln Fest, Bernard Orr
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