May 31, 2022 - World

Pacific nations wary of China's security proposal

A lock with China's flag on it.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

At a summit in Fiji last week, Beijing proposed a sweeping security and economic agreement for 10 Pacific island nations. None signed it.

The big picture: The countries don't want their region to become the locus of a superpower showdown. But some may still choose to deepen partnerships with Beijing in the future.

  • The proposal comes as Australia sounds the alarm about China's encroachment in its neighborhood.

What's happening: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi laid out an extensive deal, including trade, cybersecurity, data networks and law enforcement to leaders from the 10 countries gathered at the meeting, including Tonga, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islands.

  • Last month, the Solomon Islands signed a five-year security agreement with China. The agreement could see Chinese military vessels docking and refueling at ports there.
  • Last week, Wang and Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare celebrated what they called "iron-clad" ties between the two countries.

But none of the countries signed up for the sweeping new proposal.

  • "Geopolitical point-scoring means less than little to anyone whose community is slipping beneath the rising seas, whose job is being lost to the pandemic, or whose family is impacted by the rapid rise in the price of commodities," Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said after the summit concluded.
  • Micronesia's President David Panuelo warned that signing the agreement could result in a regional Cold War between the U.S. and China.
  • The U.S. also urged caution. "We don't believe that importing security forces from the PRC and their methods will help any Pacific Island country," U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price told Reuters.

What to watch: A sweeping regional agreement may not be in the offing, but smaller bilateral deals may be.

  • Samoa inked an economic and technical cooperation agreement with Beijing over the weekend, and other countries may follow.

Go deeper: Solomon Islands becomes unlikely epicenter of U.S.-China competition

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