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China fails on big Pacific deal but finds smaller gains

SUVA – China failed on Monday in a bold plan to support 10 Pacific nations a comprehensive new agreement from security to fisheries, as some in the region expressed deep concern.

But there have been many minor victories for China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, he continues Island hopping tour from the region.

Wang was in Fiji to co-host an important meeting with the foreign ministers of the 10 island nations.

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

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But it was clear that the nations had not supported China’s plan.

“As always, in any discussion of new regional agreements, consensus among our countries comes first,” Bainimarama said.

while it has increased international concerns Beyond Beijing’s military and financial ambitions in the region, many Fijians see an advantage in foreign investment, wherever it comes from, as long as it buoys people.

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

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

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

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

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But Wang was unable to reach the desired consensus.

David Panuelo, president of the Federated States of Micronesia, told other Pacific leaders he would not support the plan, warning them in a letter that it would unnecessarily exacerbate geopolitical tensions and threaten regional stability.

Panuelo called it “the single most landmark proposed agreement in the Pacific in our lifetime” and said it “threatens to usher in a new Cold War era at best and a world war at worst.”

During Monday’s press conference, Wang listed some areas where the countries could reach agreement and said he will continue working on others.

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

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While China may not have fulfilled its plans for a grand multilateral deal, it has been signing smaller bilateral deals with the Pacific nations every day during Wang’s tour.

For example, on Friday Wang visited Kiribati, where a important fishing area The greatness of California is at stake. The Kiribati government later said the two nations had signed 10 agreements ranging from cooperation on economic goals to building a specific bridge.

The Kiribati government did not immediately respond to a request from The Associated Press for details of the agreements.

In his press conference, Wang said, “Some have wondered why China has been so active in supporting the Pacific island nations.”

He said China has long lobbied for other developing nations in the Pacific and around the world, something it began in the 1960s when it helped African nations build railroads.

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“My advice to these people is don’t be too scared and don’t be too nervous,” Wang said.

A draft of the proposed multilateral agreement obtained by The Associated Press shows that China plans to train Pacific police officers, unite 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 lucrative tuna fishing in the Pacific – strengthen cooperation in running the region’s Internet networks and set up cultural Confucius institutes and classrooms. China also mentions the possibility of establishing a free trade zone with the Pacific States.

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

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

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China hit back, and said the US was spreading disinformation. The aim of Blinken’s speech is to “contain and suppress China’s development and uphold US hegemony,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said. “We regret and deeply reject this.”

China says cooperation between Beijing and the Pacific island nations has expanded in a development welcomed by those countries.

Fiji’s economy has been 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 recover and many are happy to see China writing the checks.

China’s involvement in the region does not come entirely out of the blue. There is a long history of Chinese immigration to Fiji, with many Chinese Fijians running corner shops and other businesses.

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

Nabukete worries about the more shady side that has been linked to Chinese investment in Fiji – an alleged influx of gambling, gangs and drugs.

She said aligning with China could mean Fiji creating tensions with the United States and other Western nations, and for that reason she hopes Fiji will not back Wang’s deal.

“There is so much more to lose in the future than what we see now if Fiji signs,” she said.

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Perry reported from Wellington, New Zealand

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https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/05/30/as-china-seeks-big-pacific-deal-many-in-fiji-see-benefits/ China fails on big Pacific deal but finds smaller gains

Sarah Y. Kim

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