Pacific island states not US ‘cheese’ for China to move

By Wang Jiamei Source:Global Times Published: 2019/10/21 20:43:40

Boys row by the beach in Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, Oct. 11, 2019. Photo: Xinhua

Not surprisingly, Beijing's increasing engagement with the states of the South Pacific Ocean has rattled the nerves of some Western countries. Currently, the participation of a Chinese delegation, led by Vice Premier Hu Chunhua, at the third China-Pacific Island Countries Economic and Development Cooperation Forum, which took place on Monday in Apia, the Samoan capital is being closely watched.

While the West has been hyping the risks of Chinese loans to Pacific nations, what Washington really cares about is not debt but the intensifying geopolitical rivalry in the region. 

It is true that the US and even Australia have long seen the region as being within their spheres of influence, but now things are bound to change with China's growing presence in the region. 

China has no intention to "move the cheese" of any country, but those in the West who tend to believe China poses a threat to their interests in the South Pacific often ignore the fact that those island countries are not their "cheese."

It's inevitable for China to step up its presence in the South Pacific. With China's strengthening economic power, the spillover effect naturally sees its influence around the world, which will affect this region sooner or later. 

Bilateral trade between China and the eight Pacific island nations that have established diplomatic ties with Beijing has been on the rise, reaching a combined $4.3 billion in 2018, up 25 percent from 2017. China's direct investment in the island countries increased to $4.53 billion last year, a significant jump from $900 million in 2013.

Moreover, the forum is also an opportunity to deepen mutually beneficial cooperation between China and the Pacific island countries in areas such as trade, agriculture and fisheries, infrastructure and tourism.

Some Western observers never tire of warning about the so-called "China influence," but such anxiety only reflects their psychological discomfort with what China has achieved and their inability to maintain influence in the region. Some even see new developments in the region as a geopolitical confrontation between China and the US as well as Australia, but that's just paranoia.

The West, especially Australia, must recognize that China's influence on the states of the South Pacific cannot be undone, and those island nations are free to choose the most suitable partners. After all, island countries in the region don't belong to the West or Australia.

If the West can correctly understand its relationship with South Pacific nations, which are not their affiliates, then the right approach they may take toward the region is to join China in deepening economic cooperation with these countries instead of standing aside and exaggerating the "China threat."

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.


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