According to Reuters news agency, China will reportedly seek a broad security and economic deal with 10 states in the Pacific during Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s trip to the region this week.
Wang will land in the Solomon Islands on Thursday at the start of a 10-day tour that will also take him to Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and East Timor between May 26 and June 4.
During the trip, Wang will attend the second meeting of foreign ministers of China and the Pacific in Fiji, where he is expected to push for a five-year action plan and joint communiqué.
The draft of that communiqué, shared with Reuters, describes how China and the Pacific countries can “strengthen exchanges and cooperation on traditional and non-traditional security”.
Details include a planned free trade zone between China and the Pacific, as well as agreements on police training and law enforcement operations, as well as plans to collaborate on data networking, cybersecurity and smart customs.
The latter point would give Chinese tech giant Huawei the green light to enter the Pacific market and build 5G networks.
The company is banned from operating in several western and US-affiliated countries due to security concerns surrounding its close ties to the Chinese state. The United States and Australia have also blocked Huawei from building submarine cables and cellular networks in the Pacific, according to Reuters.
The draft plan has alarmed at least one Pacific nation, the Federated States of Micronesia, which is a close ally of the US.
President David Panuelo has reportedly sent a letter to other heads of state in the region urging them not to accept the communiqué, which, according to a letter seen by the news agency, would exert disproportionate influence on China.
He also warned it could disrupt tensions in the Pacific and help spark another “Cold War” between China and the US.
“The practical implications… of Chinese control over our communications infrastructure, our ocean area and its resources, and our security space, beyond the implications for our sovereignty, is that it increases the likelihood of China coming into conflict with Australia, Japan, the United States and New Zealand,” he said.
Panuelo also expressed caution about allowing China to massively monitor the citizens and customs records of the Pacific islands.
However, the letter also included some criticism of Australia, whose lack of involvement in the Pacific has been cited as a major reason China has gained a foothold in some countries in the region after the Solomon Islands signed a security pact with Beijing earlier this year. .
Ned Price, the spokesman for the US State Department, said on Wednesday that the Pacific should be wary of a potential deal and expressed concern that it was “negotiated in a rushed, non-transparent process”.
“It is worth noting that [China] has a pattern of offering shady, vague deals with little transparency or regional consultation in areas related to fisheries, resource management, development aid and more recently even security practices,” he told reporters.
He also said the prospect of a security deal was worrisome and would “only try to fuel regional and international tensions and heighten concerns about Beijing’s expansion of internal — of its internal security apparatus into the Pacific”.
Australia’s newly appointed foreign secretary, Penny Wong, is also on his way to the Pacific, less than a week after taking office.
She flew to Fiji on Thursday to meet Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Henry Puna.
“The visit, in my first week as Foreign Secretary, demonstrates the importance we attach to our relationship with Fiji and to our involvement in the Pacific,” Wong told Australian public broadcaster ABC.
“Australia will listen to our Pacific partners as we work together to address our shared challenges and achieve our shared goals – including tackling climate change, pandemic recovery, economic development and regional security.”