DEAR EDITOR, China was long referred to as the ‘Land of the Sleeping Dragon’ but not anymore as it extends it influence throughout the world and especially in the Western Pacific.
Two years ago, Joanna McCarthy of the ABC’s Pacific Beat programme, reported that China’s two-way trade with the Pacific Islands had almost doubled in just one year.
Her claim was followed with the revelation that China had given the region $US1.8 billion in aid in the past decade.
It is now believed that China is the lead donor to Fiji and perhaps also to Tonga and Samoa.
In the context of Chinese aid to Samoa, Radio New Zealand today reported that Australia’s Foreign Minister, Bishop, called Samoa’s Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, to clarify another minister’s comments, those said to be have been made by Australia’s International Development Minister, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, when it was alleged she had claimed China was lending on unfavourable terms and constructing “useless buildings” and “roads to nowhere.”
The Senator’s reported comments had sparked a backlash from Pacific leaders and Beijing, with the Samoa PM calling them insulting.
Recently, Jenny Hayward –Jones told the ABC broadcaster, “Many Pacific Island Countries, like Australia, are in the position of having China as their primary strategic partner.”
“And as is the case for Australia, increasing Chinese economic (and in the Pacific island countries’ case, aid) influence does not mean Pacific Island countries have to switch their strategic allegiances.”
“They can get what they want from China without moving into China’s strategic orbit.”
There are others who view China’s increasing footprint in the Pacific as relatively benign, occasioned by the need to expand markets for its cheap consumer goods rather than any geopolitical motives.
Against their views, several observers see Beijing’s move into the Pacific as a growing threat to regional security and the reason the USA has prompted its foreign policy “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific.
It might be expected that as China’s aid spending is seen as having “no strings attached,” in contrast to the stricter governance criteria imposed by Australia – often reported to be a source of irritation to Pacific governments, who view the Australian approach as patronizing, more spats will emerge.
The Solomon Islands has no formal diplomatic relationship with China (PRC) and its foreign relations is directed to the Republic of China (on Taiwan) (ROC) allowing the SIG to receive substantial monetary support annually from Taiwan, but funding that is increasingly leading to calls at home for much stricter auditing and spending of the money it gets without so-far-strings attached.
Perhaps the last word to this story should go to Professor Hugh White of the Australian National University who reportedly said (quote).
“China clearly does seek to become at least a leading power in the Western Pacific and perhaps the leading power in the Western Pacific.”