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Threat Alert: China Wants to Expand Influence in the Pacific

Threat Alert: China Wants to Expand Influence in the Pacific

Last week, the Associated Press published a report about the People’s Republic of China’s aim for 10 Pacific nations to sign a security agreement with China. The deal details include China training police officers in the region, cooperation on security, joint development of fisheries, internet development, and further cultural influence from Beijing.

The nations that China wants in the pact are the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, Niue, The Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, The Cook Islands, Kiribati, and Vanuatu. However, with China’s plan, the nations listed did not reach a joint consensus on the security pact.

For this brief, Overwatch analyzed China’s relationships with each country on the list. Our research identified several factors which suggest that the Chinese state will continue to lay the groundwork to influence Pacific nations and develop more control in the region, undermining the U.S. and projecting China’s power.

Overwatch note: For brevity’s sake, we focused on the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and Vanuatu.

The Solomon Islands

Photo Credit: Google Earth

The Solomon Islands has its security agreement with China, signed in April 2022. While the deal details are not all public, it reportedly permits China to send security forces to the islands to protect “Chinese nationals” and “property.” In addition, China provides training for the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force.

The following photo shows Chinese security forces with the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF).

Photo Credit: RSIPF Facebook Page

Analysts note that such training is what China allegedly offered in its more comprehensive agreement with the 10 Pacific nations.

The Solomon Islands has been moving closer to China since late-2019. In October 2019, the Solomon Islands severed its diplomatic ties with Taiwan and joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a global infrastructure program that seeks to connect all trade routes in Africa, Asia, and Europe to China.

There are also reports that China plans to establish a military base in the Solomon Islands, claims which both countries deny.

The United States continues to work together with the Solomon Islands, most recently using the U.S. Coast Guard to help patrol the Solomon Islands’ Economic Exclusive Zone.

Fiji

Photo Credit: Google Earth

In 2012, the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji, opened a Confucius Institute. Confucius Institutes are on college campuses globally and Chinese state-funded to promote Chinese culture. According to the Congressional Research Service, the institutes lack transparency and, in some cases, “have successfully pushed back against or prevented PRC interference in university events, such as speaking engagements by the Dalai Lama and other figures opposed by the Chinese government.”

Analysts note that Confucius Institutes help China project soft power with foreign influence in countries outside its borders.

In May 2015, Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to strengthen cooperation in “agricultural technology, green development, and investment and trade.” Bainimarama also expressed support for the Belt and Road Initiative.

In April 2016, Fiji said it supported China’s position on the South China Sea, where one-third of the world’s maritime shipping passes each year.

In July 2018, Fiji said China would provide surveillance and hydrographic vessel. The vessel, RFNS Kacau, is currently used by the Fijian Navy. Additionally, In November 2018, Fiji officially joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Photo Credit: Republic of Fiji Navy

In the last few years, there has been increased cooperation and engagement between the Chinese Navy and the Fijian Navy.

Papua New Guinea

Photo Credit: Google Earth

In June 2018, Papua New Guinea joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

In August 2019, Papua New Guinea requested the Chinese State to refinance its government’s debt, an estimated 11.2 billion in loans. Further, following the Chinese Communist Party crackdowns in Hong Kong in 2020, Papua New Guinea expressed its support for China, not Hong Kong.

In an interview on May 31, 2021, with the Global Times, China’s Ambassador to Papua New Guinea, Zeng Fanhua, said, “PNG relations and pragmatic cooperation have reached a very high level, but there are still huge potential and broad prospects. Both sides hope to further strengthen high-level exchanges and strategic communication and enhance mutual political trust. After the pandemic, exchanges at all levels between China and PNG are expected to resume and strengthen as soon as possible.”

Vanuatu

Photo Credit: Google Earth

In May 2016, Vanuatu was the first country in the region to support China’s claims over the South China Sea.

In November 2018, Vanuatu joined the Chinese State’s Belt and Road Initiative.

The Chinese Communist Party also has political influence in Vanuatu. China Daily reports, “To date, seven political parties in Vanuatu have established contact with the Communist Party of China. Ni-Vanuatu party leaders have actively participated in the CPC and World Political Parties Summit and the China-Pacific Island Countries Political Leadership Dialogue to strengthen party-to-party cooperation and enhance our people’s livelihoods. Party-to-party exchanges have already become a key driving force and a distinctive feature of China-Vanuatu relations.”

In March 2022, Chinese President Xi Jinping said he wanted to take China-Vanuatu relations and strategic partnerships to a new level.

Over the last few years, there have been reports that Vanuatu might be open to hosting a Chinese military base. However, we are not able to verify those claims.

OUR ASSESSMENT

The Chinese State will continue to expand its power and reach in the Pacific region, threatening U.S. interests and allies.

The greater the security cooperation between China and the Solomon Islands, the more likely it is for the Chinese State to obtain more decisive influence in the area. The Solomon Islands currently has no military, and the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) is both the law enforcement and national security authority. The RSIPF reliance on Chinese security forces for training will likely lead to deeper security ties between both nations and could damage the U.S.’s current relationship with the Solomon Islands. Additionally, a potential Chinese military base on the Solomon Islands could destabilize the region, and AUKUS members and the U.S. and Australia would see it as a national security threat.

We assess that relations between Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and China will increase economically as the Chinese State provides loans to fund significant infrastructure projects in each underdeveloped nation. While China’s security agreement didn’t go through, China sees these countries as vital to their overall interests and trade routes that it seeks control over as part of its Belt and Road Initiative, suggesting that they will attempt another agreement with these smaller Pacific nations sometime in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

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