Analysis- Over the past decade, relations between the United States and China have become increasingly volatile and have gradually escalated. Trade sanctions, maritime and air clashes in the South China Sea, and war of words have weakened foreign relations to what many say is their lowest level since the Cold War.
In recent months, agreements signed between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States (oaks) “Exchange of Naval Nuclear Propulsion Information” is presented as the foundation for an enhanced security partnership linked to a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and a rules-based international order.
The Chinese government has accused AUKUS of reflecting “Cold War-era thinking”, entailing “a path to error and danger” and posing a threat to both “regional peace” and the “international nuclear non-proliferation regime”.
on the other hand, A task force was formed Proposed a resolution in the US House of Representatives to counter what the United States sees as China’s growing influence in US territory and in the free allies of the Pacific.
Anja Manuel, a former U.S. diplomat and executive director of the Aspen Security Forum, said, “A renewed U.S. engagement in the South Pacific is very positive and will be good for the economies of those countries.”
“I think it’s a great move, whatever the reason or background, because it’s good for the environment, but it’s been long overdue,” Manuel said.
The first major move by the United States to the Pacific region came last July when Vice President Kamala Harris said: Virtual Address to Pacific Island Leaders Dating in Fiji. Harris announced plans to step up his engagement.
The announcement was well received by leaders and Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama welcomed the announcement.
“I think it’s clear that the United States is certainly getting closer to what we traditionally think of as our Pacific partners,” he said.
Two months later, Pacific Island leaders met with President Joe Biden in Washington, where the pledge list was unveiled.These include the allocation of US$810 million to the Pacific; Establishment of an embassy in Kiribati, Solomon Islands and Tonga.
But many critics question the motives behind the sudden resurgence of US interest in the South Pacific. Is it driven by genuine efforts to improve the small island nation’s infrastructure and public services, or is it driven by the need to counter Chinese influence?
Manuel said part of the motivation for the increased US engagement was the need to maintain the democratic values of a free society that China does not share, and that China’s foreign policy motivation was to expand its influence and win votes for the United Nations.
“China’s influence is not just in the Pacific Islands, it’s in Africa, and it’s spreading all over the world,” Manuel said.
“China has been very effective in offering some incentives to small states, each of which has a voting right in the United Nations – some may call it bribery, some may call it perfectly legal, but they are using it to entice them to their side.”
Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution who has studied China’s foreign policy for many years, agrees.
Diamond said China was at its worst when Chinese President Xi Jinping came to power in 2013, and said there were imperialist elements to China’s goals in the Pacific.
“They want the U.S. out of the Pacific completely,” said Diamond, a professor at Stanford University.
“These are very small countries (Pacific islands)…not difficult to operate. Little money can buy you a lot of influence.”
Power for Good?
But is everything that suggests that China’s new influence in the Pacific is negative necessarily?
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manase Sogavare stepped up to defend China during a visit to the country earlier this month. Strategic interests are misunderstood.
The premier told Chinese media that a partnership with the “great country China” was the way forward.
“It’s really disappointing…the nonsense we’re hearing is basically a misunderstanding of what China is doing,” he said.
“China has no strategic interests outside of Taiwan and, of course, the South China Sea.
“No country in the world would be comfortable if it started encroaching on an area that is considered an existential threat by any country, and China is no exception.”
Sogavare also reiterated that the Pacific does not belong to anyone.
“The Solomon Islands and other Pacific island nations are not. [the] Backyards in other countries.
“We are a sovereign nation and can make our own decisions.”
Last year, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape welcomed Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Port Moresby, reiterating how important China is to his country.
“China-Papuania relations cannot be compromised or sabotaged. It is a very important relationship,” he said.
China said it has common interests with Pacific countries that could develop positively.
A statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs outlines China’s position in the Pacific: “As developing countries, China and the Pacific island nations share broad common interests in safeguarding peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, upholding international fairness and justice, and promoting sustainable and resilient development.”
Recent diplomatic exchanges show that the two governments are willing to meet face-to-face to discuss their concerns.
Earlier this month, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said: visited Beijing. On Sunday, she told reporters that she was “eager” to cooperate with China in areas of her interest.
This provoked a harsh reaction from opposition Republicans, who lashed out at a hearing last week against Special Envoy for Climate Change John Kerry. Kelly is in China on a mission to discuss reducing fossil fuel emissions.
But Republicans have questioned the timing of the visit, pointing to numerous allegations of human rights violations in China.
Despite criticism, Biden’s efforts to achieve a stronger presence in the Pacific are arguably the greatest of any U.S. president since World War II. Just two months before him, he signed an unprecedented contract. Defense partnership with Papua New Guinea.
“In the years and decades to come, much of our world’s history will be written in the Indo-Pacific,” Biden said in the announcement after meeting with Pacific island leaders in Washington last year.
“And the Pacific Islands are playing a key role in shaping that future,” he added.
*RNZ Pacific Journalist Finau Fonua participates in US State Department-funded news tours, visiting government, academic, business and community institutions and organizations across multiple US states.
https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/494054/the-battle-for-influence-in-the-pacific-between-the-world-s-superpowers Battle for influence in the Pacific between world superpowers