New Delhi, May 26
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi launched a whirlwind tour of Pacific Island countries seeking a 10-nation deal on security and trade, days after the Tokyo Quad summit exhorted its members to further strengthen cooperation with these Pacific island countries.
Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong arrived in Fiji, one of the Pacific Island countries in an attempt to counter Wang’s eight-nation tour along with a 44-member delegation. Wang arrived in Solomon Islands which recently signed a security patch with China despite objects from three of the Quad members – the US, Australia and Japan.
As many of these countries are not far from Australia, analysts see this as Chinese payback for Canberra’s leading role in trying to contain Beijing by AUKUS and Quad.
Canberra dispatched Wong to Fiji as the Chinese Foreign Minister is scheduled to arrive there on Monday for a hybrid conclave with Pacific Island countries. In the joint statement, the Quad had reaffirmed support for Pacific regional security frameworks which China is trying to get undone through its Foreign Minister’s first 10-day tour. During his 10-day visit, Wang will make stops in Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and East Timor.
The Australian Foreign Minister took the contrite option by telling the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) secretariat in Fiji that her government will “listen” to Pacific islands and accepted that Canberra had previously not respected Pacific nations’ struggle with climate change. But the new labor government would do more, including financing climate infrastructure and offering migration and work pathways to Australia for Pacific citizens, she said.
The Chinese Foreign Minister met Solomon Islands Acting Governor General Patteson Oti in Honiara at the start of an eight-nation tour. He will host a meeting of Pacific foreign ministers in Fiji next week to seek agreement on a five-year Pacific islands action plan.
“China will, as always, firmly support the Solomon Islands in safeguarding national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity and safeguarding domestic unity,” Wang said in Solomon Islands.
Australia’s new PM Anthony Albanese said Wong had gone to Fiji because Australia needed to “step up” its efforts in the Pacific. “We need to respond to this because Australia has been the security partner of choice since the Second World War,” he said.