SUVA: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi holds talks with leaders and top officials from ten Pacific Island states on Monday (May 30), part of a regional diplomatic blitz that has stirred deep Western concern.
The virtual summit is expected to discuss leaked proposals for China to radically increase its involvement in the security, economy and politics of the South Pacific.
Wang is in the Fijian capital Suva, where he will co-host a virtual meeting with regional foreign ministers – many of whom are also leaders of the small island states.
On the table is a secret deal – obtained by AFP – that would see China train local police, become involved in cybersecurity, expand political ties, conduct sensitive marine mapping and gain greater access to natural resources on land and in the water.
As an enticement, Beijing is offering millions of dollars in financial assistance, the prospect of a China-Pacific Islands free trade agreement and access to China’s vast market of 1.4 billion people.
Only Pacific nations that recognise China over Taiwan will attend today’s summit, including those Wang has already visited on his regional whistle-stop – Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Samoa and Fiji.
The proposal comes as Beijing jostles with Washington and its allies over influence in the strategically vital Pacific.
Analysts say the deal is unlikely to be unanimously approved by Pacific Island leaders today.
A recent security deal between the Solomon Islands and China caused deep unease in a region that is usually more concerned by climate change than superpower politics.
“The Solomons came off as an outlier, there wasn’t a rush of interest,” said Richard Herr, an academic at the University of Tasmania who has decades of experience working in the Pacific Islands.
The region will be hesitant about “being dragged into geostrategic competition”, he said.
There has already been some pushback to Beijing’s latest proposal, including from the President of the Federated States of Micronesia, David Panuelo, who warned other Pacific leaders it could cause “the fracturing of regional peace, security, and stability”.
The president of Palau, a Pacific nation that maintains diplomatic ties with Taiwan, told the ABC Monday that the region “should be concerned” about the proposed deals.
Western powers have bristled against the deals, with the US State Department warning the Pacific to be wary of “shadowy, vague deals with little transparency” with China.