During a summit in Fiji on Monday, Chinese negotiators failed to convince 10 Pacific island nations to join them on a mutual security and trade agreement that would’ve allowed China to establish a presence of security officers in their nations.
The Beijing-proposed security and trade pact would bring Pacific islands nations like the Federated States of Micronesia, the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Niue and Timor-Leste into closer alignment with the Chinese government. The pact would include law enforcement and fishing cooperation, providing China with Pacific hosts for security forces and ships that they could potentially use for military assets to be better positioned for a conflict with the U.S.
The Guardian reported that during a virtual summit to discuss the proposal, several of the invited nations wanted to defer action or amend the agreement before moving ahead.
Even before Monday’s meeting, Federated States of Micronesia’s President David Panuelo expressed skepticism about the true aims of the Chinese-led security pact. Panuelo urged the invited Pacific Island nations who had been invited to join the pact to exercise “serious caution,” Radio Free Asia reported.
Panuelo said the proposed security pact “is demonstrative of China’s intention to shift Pacific allegiances in their direction.”
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi sought to reassure the other nations about the agreement on Monday.
“Don’t be too anxious and don’t be too nervous,” Wang said. “Because the common development and prosperity of China and all the other developing countries would only mean great harmony, greater justice and greater progress of the whole world.”
The Chinese effort to form an alliance in the Indo-Pacific region comes as the U.S. has increasingly countered Chinese diplomatic and trade expansions in the region by forming its own alliances and partnerships, such as the Australia, United Kingdom and United States “AUKUS” trilateral security pact and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (PEF).
Fiji, the nation that hosted the virtual summit to consider China’s trade and security pact, recently joined the PEF, formed by President Joe Biden’s administration. By signing on to the PEF, Fiji has joined in alongside fellow members like Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Alexander Vuving, a professor at the U.S. Department of Defense’s Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, told Radio Free Asia “the shelving of the China-Pacific Islands deal at the last minute resulted from pressure by the United States, Australia, and maybe some other regional powers.”
“This is a diplomatic victory for these ‘China-wary’ nations and a diplomatic defeat for China,” Vuving said, though he warned that China “will not accept a defeat.”
After the virtual meeting on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lijian Zhao said China “will release a position paper on cooperation between China and the Pacific Island countries going forward in response to the expectations of the latter.”
Wang also said China “will continue to have ongoing and in-depth discussions and consultations to shape more consensus on cooperation.”