WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — China wants 10 small Pacific nations to approve a comprehensive deal covering everything from security to fisheries, in what one leader warns is a “game-changing” bid by Beijing to take over. control of the region.
A draft agreement obtained by The Associated Press shows China wants to train Pacific police officers, team up on “traditional and non-traditional security” and expand law enforcement cooperation.
China also wants to jointly develop a marine plan for fisheries – which would include the lucrative catches of Pacific tuna – increase cooperation on managing the region’s internet networks and set up Confucius cultural institutes and classrooms. China also raises the possibility of creating a free trade area with the Pacific countries.
China’s move comes as Foreign Minister Wang Yi and a 20-person delegation begin a visit to the region this week.
Wang is visiting seven of the countries he hopes will adopt the “Shared Development Vision”: Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.
Wang is also hosting virtual meetings with the other three potential signatories – the Cook Islands, Niue and the Federated States of Micronesia. He hopes the countries will endorse the pre-written deal in a joint statement after a meeting scheduled for May 30 in Fiji that he is holding with foreign ministers from each of the 10 countries.
But Micronesia President David Panuelo wrote an eight-page letter to leaders of other Pacific nations saying his country would not endorse the plan and warning of dire consequences if others did.
Panuelo said in his letter, which the AP obtained, that behind alluring words in the agreement like “fairness” and “justice” lie many disturbing details.
Among other concerns, he said, is that the deal opens the door for China to own and control the region’s fishing and communications infrastructure. He said China could intercept emails and listen to phone calls.
Panuelo said in his letter that the deal is “an intention to move those of us who have diplomatic relations with China very close to Beijing’s orbit, intrinsically tying all of our economies and societies together. “.
He warns that the deal would unnecessarily aggravate geopolitical tensions and threaten regional stability.
In his letter, Panuelo said the shared development vision is “the most revolutionary proposed deal in the Pacific of our lifetimes”, and that it “threatens to bring about a new era of the Cold War at best, and at worst a world war”. .”
Panuelo declined to comment on the letter or the proposed agreement.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Wednesday he was unaware of Panuelo’s letter.
“But I strongly disagree with the argument that cooperation between China and South Pacific island countries will trigger a new cold war,” he said.
He said China “has a long history of friendly relations with South Pacific island countries” and has long provided them with economic and technical assistance without any political strings attached.
Like some other Pacific nations, Micronesia finds itself increasingly caught between the competing interests of Washington and Beijing.
Micronesia maintains close ties with the United States through a Compact of Free Association. But he also has what Panuelo describes in his letter as a “great friendship” with China that he hopes will continue despite his opposition to the deal.
The security aspects of the deal will be particularly troubling for many in the region and beyond, especially after China signed a separate security pact with the Solomon Islands last month.
The pact has raised fears that China could send troops to the island nation or even establish a military base there, not far from Australia. The Solomon Islands and China say there are no plans for a base.
The May 30 meeting will be the second between Wang and Pacific island foreign ministers after holding a virtual meeting last October.
Those who follow China’s role in the Pacific will examine the wording of the draft agreement.
Among its provisions: “China will organize mid-level and high-level police training for Pacific island countries.”
The agreement stipulates that the countries will strengthen “cooperation in the fields of traditional and non-traditional security” and “expand cooperation in law enforcement, jointly combat transnational crime and establish a capacity dialogue mechanism. law enforcement and police cooperation”.
The deal would also see the nations “expand exchanges between governments, legislatures and political parties”.
The draft agreement also stipulates that Pacific countries “firmly adhere” to the one-China principle, under which Taiwan, a self-governing island democracy, is considered by Beijing to be part of China. It would also respect the principle of “non-interference” that China often cites as a deterrent to other nations talking about its human rights record.
The agreement stipulates that China and the Pacific countries would jointly formulate a marine spatial plan “to optimize the development of the marine economy, and to develop and use marine resources rationally, in order to promote sustainable development of the blue economy”.
China also promises more investment in the region by mobilizing private capital and encouraging “more competitive and reputable Chinese companies to participate in direct investment in Pacific island countries.”
China has also promised to send Chinese language consultants, teachers and volunteers to the islands.
The PA also secured a draft five-year action plan to accompany the common development vision, which outlines a number of immediate incentives China offers to Pacific countries.
In the action plan, China says it will fully implement 2,500 government scholarships until 2025.
“In 2022, China will hold the first training program for young diplomats from Pacific island countries, depending on the pandemic situation,” the draft plan says, adding that China will also hold seminars on governance and planning. for the nations of the Pacific.
In the draft action plan, China says it will build criminal investigation labs according to the needs of Pacific countries that can be used for fingerprint testing, forensic autopsies and electronic forensics. .
China also said it would also spend an additional $2 million and send 200 doctors to the islands to help fight COVID-19 and promote health, and pledged to help countries in their efforts to fight the virus. climate change.