China’s diplomatic gambit heralds new ‘Battle for the Pacific’

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s Pacific tour has opened a new front in Beijing’s quest for influence and challenged decades of Western primacy  Photo: AFP/FileNs News Online Desk

Ns News Online Desk: SYDNEY-A 10-day South Pacific island-hopping tour by China’s top diplomat focused world attention on a usually overlooked region, opened a new front in Beijing’s quest for global influence and challenged decades of Western primacy. On the face of it, Wang Yi’s trip was a failure.

His centerpiece proposal — a regional pact to turbocharge China’s role in Pacific island security — was leaked to the press and then roundly rejected by regional leaders.

Representatives of the 10 Pacific island states were not shy about expressing their displeasure at China trying to ram through such a consequential agreement with next-to-no consultation.

“You cannot have regional agreement when the region hasn’t met to discuss it,” said Samoan Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa.

Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama was even more pointed.

Standing next to Wang, he upbraided those focused on “geopolitical point-scoring”, saying it “means less than little to anyone whose community is slipping beneath the rising seas”.

In the carefully choreographed world of diplomacy, where texts and talking points are drafted, redrafted and broadly agreed upon long before “principals” like Wang even sit down, it was a stunning misfire.

“It was something of an overreach by China,” said Wesley Morgan, an expert on the Pacific Islands at Griffith University. “They must have had a slightly uncomfortable conversation.”

When the dust settled, Chinese officials, better known in recent years for abrasive “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy, sounded chastened.

“Not every” China-Pacific Islands ministerial meeting “will necessarily produce outcome documents”, the Chinese Embassy in Fiji tweeted. “Please stay tuned.”

Despite the setbacks, Wang’s trip represents a “step change” in Chinese ambitions in the region, said Euan Graham, an expert on Asia-Pacific Security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Where China had sought to increase its influence “piecemeal”, he said, “now the veil has dropped, there is confidence or overconfidence on China’s part and there is a clear stepping up of efforts


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