Chinese officials have pre-written joint communiques to be issued after upcoming planned meetings with Pacific island nations, pledging stronger security arrangements and cooperation to exploit marine resources.
The pre-determined outcome of the meetings scheduled for Monday adds an assertive new layer to China’s expansion into the Pacific that includes a new security pact with Solomon Islands, a move that has triggered concern in Australia and its major allies including the United States.
The president of the Federated States of Micronesia, David Panuelo, said in a letter to Pacific leaders that the documents’ contents represented the “single-most game-changing proposed agreement in the Pacific in any of our lifetimes”.
Chinese government representatives in Australia were contacted for comment.
The communiques, obtained by AAP, are separated into two documents.
One is concerned with the outcome of the meeting between Chinese officials and the foreign ministers of 10 Pacific nations invited to talks scheduled for May 30. The second details the five-year process to implement the supposed agreed-upon plan.
Notably, the communiques state that there is agreement to strengthen cooperation between China and Pacific nations on “traditional and non-traditional security” to promote regional stability.
“China will hold intermediate and high-level police training for Pacific Island Countries through bilateral and multilateral means,” the document said.
China’s description of the security arrangements resembles how Beijing officials described the pact with Solomon Islands, which they said was based on maintaining social order and safeguarding national security.
That security pact featured heavily in the early stages of the recent Australian election campaign amid allegations the Morrison-led government mishandled Pacific diplomacy.
Labor’s Penny Wong, who is now the foreign affairs minister, described the agreement as the worst Australian foreign policy blunder in the Pacific in decades.
US officials, including high-ranking military personnel, also raised concerns over the security arrangement given China’s deep involvement in a country located so far from the streets of Beijing.
It is understood that 10 island nations with whom China has diplomatic relations are invited to attend the China-Pacific Island Countries Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on Monday, the second in a new series of annual meetings.
They include Fiji, Solomons, Papua New Guinea, the Federated States of Micronesia, Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati, Vanuatu, Cook Islands and Niue. The meeting is to be held by video.
Some of the island nations’ foreign ministers expected to attend are also the heads of their country.
Small island nations will be put in a difficult position next week given they will either need to stay silent and accept the joint communiques or risk publicly opposing China.
The Chinese plans are likely to spark renewed tension in the Pacific, a region that has been largely uncontested since the Allied victory in World War II.
Senator Wong is scheduled to fly to Fiji shortly after her visit to Tokyo for the Quad leaders’ summit, where the heads of Australia, India, Japan and the US reinforced their commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.
Meanwhile, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi is scheduled to visit Solomon Islands, a former British protectorate that has forged a very close alliance with Beijing since 2019, after severing diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
The first document, a 32-point outcome of the May 30 meeting, extends into almost every major facet of island life, from supporting language exchanges to combating climate change and increasing trade.
The communiques also pledge cooperation between Beijing and the Pacific nations on sensitive communications infrastructure, including cyber security, as well as customs and quarantine infrastructure.
It also stipulates that both sides have agreed to formulate a so-called marine spatial plan to “optimise the layout of the marine economy”.
The communiques say China and the Pacific nations will develop and utilise marine resources rationally to promote sustainable development.
Any push by China for influence over marine assets, the lifeblood of many island nations, is likely to draw the strongest response from the Pacific.
Despite being small in land mass, Pacific states boast strategic ports, control vast swathes of resource-rich ocean and also represent a vote in some international forums.
DOCUMENTS (MAIN POINTS):
* Pledges to expand exchanges between governments
* Respect each other’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity
* Strengthen security cooperation. Hold ministerial dialogues on law enforcement and police cooperation
* Strengthen cooperation on network governance and cyber security
* Align China’s Belt and Road Initiative with existing Pacific strategies for sustainable development and other regional priorities
* Develop free trade zones
* Jointly formulate a marine spatial plan to optimise the marine economy
* Enhance customs, inspection and quarantine cooperation
* Encourage reputable Chinese enterprise to directly invest in Pacific nations
* Expand tourism
* China to provide more assistance to combat COVID-19
* Strengthen cooperation on poverty alleviation
* Set up more language and cultural exchanges
* China to provide scholarships and various training initiatives
* Promote green and low-carbon development
* Help with disaster prevention, reduction and relief
* Promote cooperation in meteorological observation
* Uphold multilateralism and the principles of the United Nations charter
* Accelerate sustainable development