The Pacific Influence War – Part 6

Alessandro Ponzetto | June 1st, 2022

Back on May 27, in Part 5 of this series, we covered the first part of the double diplomatic tour ongoing in the Pacific. On the one hand, we have Wang Yi, Foreign Minister of China, while on the other we have Penny Wong, the newly appointed Foreign Minister of Australia. A few days after, with the tour of both still ongoing, we have a few hints as to whose side is ‘winning’.

Wang Yi has suffered quite a few setbacks, the biggest of which being the big deal of his not materialising. This is because there was no consensus on the wide ranging trade and security deal, which most likely forced the Chinese to opt for a position paper called ‘China’s Position Paper on Mutual Respect and Common Development with Pacific Island Countries’.

The title is quite a mouthful, and the paper itself is just as verbose (to take a leaf out of Wang Wenbin’s criticism of Blinken’s speech, mentioned yesterday). For all intents and purposes, the position paper is not too dissimilar to something China signed in the past, also penned by Wang Yi: the Declaration of the Parties on the East Sea, cited in ‘The Rising Sun goes on tour – Part 2’. This is why I am personally somewhat sceptical of the CCP’s intentions, as we have seen on more than one occasion a divergence between what they say and what they do (which is why it is paramount to monitor the latter instead of the former). In this specific case, Wang Yi said, during a visit to Tonga, that China has no geopolitical intention for this part of the world, but as his signature is on that disregarded declaration I would not take his word at face value.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Wong has been quite active, achieving a few victories here and there. For example, she is partly responsible for Wang Yi’s failed security deal, and has had a hand in having Fiji join IPEF. On top of this, she has been shadowing her Chinese counterpart when it comes to countries visited, with the intention of listening to their leaders and potentially offer them an alternative solution. In essence, this is what she did with Fiji and it is something that can be replicated.

On a cursory view, it may look unimportant, after all most of the countries involved are small island-nations which are far away, but their importance cannot be measured by their size alone. While their actual landmass is indeed small, their EEZs are vast and rich in resources, something China has always had an interest in. On top of this, many of them, like Tonga, have sizable debts with Chinese SoEs (in their specific case China Export-Import Bank), which exposes them to a fate similar to the Solomons.

Overall, these last couple of days show that it is indeed possible to counter China’s influence, especially if Quad countries coordinate. As of now, this seems to be the case, especially by looking at Australia and Japan (the two most active of the four). With the case of the latter, there is a piece of news that may have been due to their activities, as Marcos Jr made remarks regarding the South China Sea and the territorial dispute with China, showing that their efforts were not for naught after all.

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