30 May 2022

China seeks multilateral deal with Pacific leaders

4:36 pm on 30 May 2022

China will attempt to persuade Pacific Island countries into signing a new multilateral deal in a virtual meeting with several regional leaders.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi speaks at a press conference in Beijing on 8 November.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi speaks at a press conference in Beijing on 8 November. Photo: REUTERS

China's foreign minister Wang Yi arrived in Fiji on Sunday - his fourth stopover in a whirlwind tour of the region.

Wang is expected to virtually meet with his Pacific Islands counterparts, hoping to get them to sign up to the China-Pacific Island Countries Common Development Vision and a five-year action plan, which was leaked last week.

The proposed document covers everything from a free trade area with the region to providing humanitarian and Covid relief, training police, cybersecurity, sensitive marine mapping, and gaining greater access to natural resources.

But not all Pacific countries are on board with Beijing's expansion plans.

Federated States of Micronesia president David Panuelo has come out publicly saying his country is against the deal.

Panuelo said the vision would "fundamentally alter what used to be bilateral relations with China into multilateral issues".

Wang has so far visited Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Samoa, and Fiji and signed a range of bilateral agreements in the fields of security and economy.

In Kiribati, he formalised up to 10 agreements "to further elevate cooperation" between the two countries.

The Kiribati government said the deals focused on several areas, including cooperation on the Belt & Road Initiative, economic and development cooperation, livelihood projects, climate change, disaster risk reduction, the Buota Bridge and adjacent road infrastructure development,

Meanwhile, tourism, protocols on dispatching medical teams, marine transportation for the Line Islands and Covid-19 medical supplies also fell under the agreements.

The government also confirmed the discussion with Wang focused both government's "aspirations for a mutual sustainable development."

President Taneti Maamau said Wang's visit to Tarawa amid the Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated China's commitment to enhancing mutual trust, building consensus, expanding cooperation, and deepening friendship with Kiribati.

And in Samoa, Wang signed documents including an economic and technical cooperation agreement.

Wang continues his Pacific tour to strengthen diplomatic ties in the region until Friday.

Also at the weekend, Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said he had a productive meeting with Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Penny Wong, who travelled to Fiji just days after being sworn in to show the new government's attention to the Pacific Islands.

New Zealand's Deputy PM assures Pacific relationships remain strong

In today's Post Cabinet briefing, New Zealand's Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said his government was "absolutely" doing enough to keep up with developments.

"Our relationships in the Pacific are extremely strong, New Zealand's not coming from a standing start here - we have over many decades developed strong relationships right across the pacific and that continues through this government.

"The Pacific is definitely a contested space at the moment and we're obviously seeing both China and the United States being present and perhaps more present than they have been in recent years. But our relationships transcend all of that and we'll continue to work closely with our neighbours."

Australia had seen a change in government and he thought they felt it was important to "put their credentials out there", but the New Zealand government had been in place for some time and had been "very much there and very much part of the conversations", he said.

"New Zealand's the consistent player and partner here, and we'll build off that."

The broad regional deal Samoa had signed with China was a very different deal to the one signed between China and Solomon Islands, which New Zealand and Australia so vehemently opposed, he said.

New Zealand's relationships with the Pacific islands transcended money and were strong regardless of any financial issue, he said.