China hosts Pacific islands meeting in Fiji, security ties in focus

China hosts Pacific islands meeting in Fiji, security ties in focus

Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum Henry Puna (2nd right) holds a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (3rd left) in Fiji's capital city of Suva on Sunday. (Photo: Handout/ AFP)
Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum Henry Puna (2nd right) holds a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (3rd left) in Fiji's capital city of Suva on Sunday. (Photo: Handout/ AFP)

SUVA: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi holds a meeting with counterparts from 10 Pacific island nations in Fiji on Monday, midway through a diplomatic tour of the region where China's ambitions for wider security ties has caused concern among US allies.

Pacific island nations with diplomatic ties with China are attending the meeting, hosted by Wang, who earlier met with Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.

In a written address delivered  to the meeting of China-Pacific foreign ministers, China's President Xi said Beijing was willing to work with Pacific Island nations to build "community with a shared future".  He said no matter how the internatinal situation may change, China would always be a good friend of Pacific Island countries".

A draft communique and five-year action plan sent by China to the invited nations, which include Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Niue and Vanuatu ahead of the meeting, showed China was seeking a sweeping regional trade and security agreement. But the draft communique prompted opposition from at least one of the invited nations, Federated States of Micronesia, according to a letter leaked last week.

With borders closed across the region because of the Covid-19 pandemic, most foreign ministers are attending the Fiji meeting by video link. In several Pacific countries, the foreign minister is also prime minister. Several invited nations want to defer action on the communique or have it amended, an official from one Pacific country told Reuters.

Some Pacific islands have in recent days signed on to some of the individual security components that China is seeking in the regional agreement, statements released by the governments and China show. In Samoa, an agreement was struck for a police fingerprint laboratory to complement a China-funded police training academy, Samoa said in a statement.

The United States, Australia, Japan and New Zealand have expressed concern at a security pact signed by Solomon Islands with China last month, saying it had regional consequences and could lead to a Chinese military presence close to Australia.

The new Australian government of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has made the Pacific islands an early foreign policy priority to counter Beijing's push, announcing a defence training school, support for maritime security, a boost in aid and re-engaging the region on climate change.

In Honiara last week, Wang condemned interference in the deal and said the Solomon Islands' relationship with China was a model for other Pacific island nations.

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