AP

China falls short on big Pacific deal but finds smaller wins

May 29, 2022, 8:50 PM | Updated: May 30, 2022, 7:03 pm

In this photo supplied by the Fiji government, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi, left, and Fiji's P...

In this photo supplied by the Fiji government, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi, left, and Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, right, speak at joint press conference at the Pacific Islands Foreign Ministers' meeting in Suva, Fiji, Monday, May 30, 2022. Wang Yi and a 20-strong delegation are in Fiji as part of an eight-nation Pacific Islands tour that comes amid growing concerns about Beijing's military and financial ambitions in the South Pacific region. (Fiji Government via AP)

(Fiji Government via AP)

SUVA, Fiji (AP) — China fell short Monday on a bold plan to have 10 Pacific nations endorse a sweeping new agreement covering everything from security to fisheries as some in the region expressed deep concerns.

But there have been plenty of smaller wins for China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi as he continues an island-hopping tour of the region.

Wang was in Fiji to co-host a key meeting with the foreign ministers from the 10 island nations.

At an unusual news conference afterward, Wang and Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama spoke for about 30 minutes and then abruptly left the stage as reporters tried to shout out questions. That left many details of what transpired at the meeting undisclosed.

But it was clear the nations hadn’t endorsed China’s plan.

“As always, we put consensus first among our countries throughout any discussion on new regional agreements,” Bainimarama said.

While there have been growing international concerns about Beijing’s military and financial ambitions in the region, many Fijians see a benefit in foreign investment wherever it comes from, so long as it uplifts the people.

Georgina Matilda said that working for Chinese infrastructure company China Railway meant that she could put food on the table for her children.

Another Fijian, Miliane Rokolita, said China’s increased presence had benefited people.

“They bring us bigger houses. They bring money in Fiji. They’re good people,” Rokolita said.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press indicate Wang had hoped to get the 10 nations to endorse a pre-written agreement as part of a joint communique after the meeting.

But Wang was unable to get the consensus he’d sought.

David Panuelo, president of the Federated States of Micronesia, told other Pacific leaders he wouldn’t endorse the plan, warning them in a letter that it would needlessly heighten geopolitical tensions and threaten regional stability.

Panuelo called it “the single most game-changing proposed agreement in the Pacific in any of our lifetimes” and said it “threatens to bring a new Cold War era at best, and a World War at worst.”

During the news conference Monday, Wang listed some areas where the countries had been able to find agreement and said he’d keep working on others.

“After the meeting, China will release its own position paper on our own positions, propositions, and cooperation proposals with Pacific Island countries,” Wang said through an interpreter. “And going forward, we will continue to have ongoing and in-depth discussions and consultations to shape more consensus.”

While China may have fallen short on its plans for a grand multilateral agreement, it has been signing smaller bilateral agreements with the Pacific nations every day during Wang’s tour.

For instance, on Friday Wang visited Kiribati, where a key fishing ground the size of California is at stake. Kiribati’s government said afterwards the two nations had signed 10 agreements ranging from cooperating on economic goals to building a specific bridge.

Kiribati’s government did not immediately respond to a request by the AP to provide details of the agreements.

In his news conference, Wang said “some have been questioning why China has been so active in supporting Pacific Island countries.”

He said China had long championed other developing nations both in the Pacific and around the world, something it had started doing in the 1960s when it helped African nations build railways.

“My advice for those people is: Don’t be too anxious and don’t be too nervous,” Wang said.

After the news conference, China’s ambassador to Fiji Qian Bo took a few questions from reporters, saying there had been “some concerns on specific issues” from some of the 10 nations about the proposed agreement.

“We never impose anything on other countries, let alone to our developing friends and small island countries,” Qian said.

He said China would try to release the position paper mentioned by Wang within about a week. He said parts of the agreement were simply an offer from China to provide assistance to the nations.

A draft of the proposed multilateral agreement obtained by the AP shows that 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 Pacific’s lucrative tuna catch — increase cooperation on running the region’s internet networks, and set up cultural Confucius Institutes and classrooms. China also mentions the possibility of setting up a free trade area with the Pacific nations.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a speech Thursday that China posed an even more serious long-term threat than Russia.

“China is the only country with both the intent to reshape the international order — and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do it,” he said. “Beijing’s vision would move us away from the universal values that have sustained so much of the world’s progress over the past 75 years.”

China hit back, saying the U.S. was spreading disinformation. The aim of Blinken’s speech was to “contain and suppress China’s development and uphold U.S. hegemony,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said. “We strongly deplore and reject this.”

China says that in the Pacific, cooperation between Beijing and the island nations has been expanding in a development that’s welcomed by those countries.

In Fiji, the economy was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. The vital tourism industry shut down overnight and GDP shrank by more than 15%. As the world reopens, Fiji is trying to bounce back, and many are happy to see China write the checks.

China’s involvement in the region doesn’t come completely out of the blue. There has been a long history of Chinese immigration in Fiji, with many Chinese Fijians running corner stores and other businesses.

“There’s a good side and a bad side,” said Nora Nabukete, a student at the University of the South Pacific. “We get more money into the economy, being pumped in and stuff, but then there’s also a side where they bring in a lot of new things that are new to the Fijian culture.”

Nabukete worries about the seedier side that has been associated with Chinese investment in Fiji — a supposed influx of gambling, gangs and drugs.

She said that aligning with China could mean that Fiji creates tension with the United States and other Western nations, and for that reason, she hoped that Fiji wouldn’t endorse Wang’s agreement.

“There’s so much more to lose in the future than what we’re experiencing now if Fiji does sign,” she said.

___

Perry reported from Wellington, New Zealand.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

President Joe Biden gestures after speaking to graduating students at the Morehouse College commenc...

Associated Press

Biden tells Morehouse graduates that scenes in Gaza from the Israel-Hamas war break his heart, too

Joe Biden on Sunday offered his most direct recognition of U.S. students' anguish over the Israel-Hamas war.

5 hours ago

Rudy Giuliani...

Associated Press

Rudy Giuliani is the final defendant to serve indictment in Arizona fake elector case

Rudy Giuliani has been served an indictment in Arizona's fake elector case for his role in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election.

1 day ago

Houston storms cause widespread damage on Friday...

Associated Press

Some in Houston facing no power for weeks after storms cause widespread damage, killing at least 4

Houston storms cause widespread damage on Friday, May 17. Thunderstorms hit the southeastern part of Texas, killing at least four people.

2 days ago

Man gets 30 years in prison for attacking ex-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband with a hammer...

Associated Press

Man gets 30 years in prison for attacking ex-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband with a hammer

A man has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for attacking the husband of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with a hammer.

2 days ago

audio from President Joe Biden’s interview about classified documents blocked...

Associated Press

GOP advances Garland contempt charges after White House exerts executive privilege over Biden audio

The move to release audio from President Joe Biden’s interview about classified documents was blocked on Thursday by the White House.

3 days ago

Asylum processing for new migrants: Changes could come soon...

Associated Press

The Biden administration is planning more changes to quicken asylum processing for new migrants

The Biden administration is planning to quicken the asylum processing for new migrants as an interim step rather than an executive order.

4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines can get you smoothly from Phoenix to Frankfurt on new A330-900neo airplane

Adventure Awaits! And there's no better way to experience the vacation of your dreams than traveling with Condor Airlines.

...

COLLINS COMFORT MASTERS

Here are 5 things Arizona residents need to know about their HVAC system

It's warming back up in the Valley, which means it's time to think about your air conditioning system's preparedness for summer.

...

DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.

China falls short on big Pacific deal but finds smaller wins