During the Chinese outbreak, he opened an embassy on the small, remote Pacific island. Here’s why

During the Chinese outbreak, he opened an embassy on the small, remote Pacific island. Here's why

The opening of the Chinese embassy in Kiribati, a country of 33 atolls and reef islands in the Central Pacific, might seem strange – especially during an epidemic. Three other countries have embassies in the island states: Australia, New Zealand and Cuba.

However, Kiribati is where growing geopolitical competition is found.

Last September, diplomatic recognition passed from Taipei to Beijing. China considers the self-governing Taiwan island to be a separatist province, and has been boiling seven of its diplomatic allies since 2016.

And this week, pro-Beijing President Taneti Maamau of Kiribati, who oversaw the country’s diplomatic pass, won a closely-watched election after defeating an opponent who sympathized with Taiwan after campaigning for closer ties with China.

Kiribati is the latest example of this Beijing’s growing influence in the PacificIt consists of a series of resource-rich islands that control vital waterways between Asia and America.
Picturesque islands are compatible with allies like the US and Australia of the region, which have long had a large military presence. biggest donor and security partner. In recent years, however, many have established closer ties with China due to Beijing’s diplomatic and economic reach and have created a fault line for geopolitical tensions.
Kiribati President Taneti Maamau attended the welcome ceremony held at Beijing's Great Hall, as well as Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Now, while Canberra and Beijing are helping the region, the possibility of a travel bubble between the Pacific Islands and Australia has brought a new dimension to competition.

Deepening access

In 2006, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao became the top Chinese official visiting the Pacific Islands. he is pawned 3 billion yuan ($ 424 million) in concessional loans to invest in fundraising, agriculture, fisheries, and other key industries marks Beijing’s interest in the region.
Today, Beijing’s second-largest donor – only after Australia, data It was compiled by the Australian think tank Lowy Institute.

For the Pacific Islands, whose total GDP is about $ 33.77 billion – less than 1% of China’s total GDP – China has been a key partner during the pandemic.

Chinese healthcare professionals, your coronavirus video conferences With colleagues in 10 Pacific Island countries sharing diplomatic relations with Beijing.
China in March, donation It provided countries with $ 1.9 million in cash and medical equipment to fight Covid-19. He also sent medical supplies, protective equipment and test kits, according to the statements of Chinese embassies in the region.
Chinese medical teams, Samoahelps local health authorities prepare guidelines on how to control the coronavirus. Special military vehicles were provided in Fiji.
According to the World Health Organization, Pacific 312 cases and 7 deathsmost of them are located in the US Guam region.

The islands have largely removed the coronavirus so far, thanks to their distance and early locking measures. However, experts warned that local communities could face devastating consequences if the virus is hit due to insufficient healthcare and lack of testing capacity.

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“China’s involvement in the Pacific today is driven by opportunism, they are trying to gain as much influence as possible,” said Jonathan Pryke, director of the Pacific island program at the Lowy Institute.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected this, promise China has no “real” and “political connection” to the Pacific Island countries.

However, stronger bonds can be useful in times of need.

In May, when China faced a global response to dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, she returned to the Pacific for support. Ministers from 10 Pacific Island countries attended the video conference days before the World Health Assembly meeting in May Collected by Covid-19 in China.

The meeting ended with a shining confirmation of China’s coronavirus response.

“The Chinese government needed it,” said Denghua Zhang of the Australian National University in Canberra.

In joint press release After the event, the Pacific Island countries praised China for its “open, transparent and responsible approach to adopting timely and sound intervention measures and sharing the limitation experience”.

While the Trump administration has repeatedly accused China of its pandemic, Canberra outraged Beijing with a call for an independent investigation into the origins of the virus.

Australia comes into play

But China’s aid to the Pacific coronavirus assistance, pales in Compared to the financial support provided by Australia. Last month, Canberra I said He was spending $ 100 million ($ 69 million) to provide “fast financial support” to 10 countries in the region, and money was directed through existing relief programs.
Recently in Australia explained It will teleport popular local television shows such as “Neighbors” and “Masterchef” to seven Pacific Island countries – it is seen as a soft force driving force to counteract the growing influence of China.

“The Australian government has openly admitted that there can be no room for vacuuming, be it vacuum power, soft power, relief or medical front,” Pryke said. Said.

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“They cannot step back from any emptiness, for fear that China can fill.”

This was on Australia’s radar before the pandemic. After taking office in 2018, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has increased foreign aid and $ 1.5 billion infrastructure fund for the region.

Travel balloon

One way the outbreak affects geopolitical competition in the Pacific is to selectively alleviate travel restrictions between countries.

As the Australian and New Zealand coronaviruses take control, politicians are talking about opening borders between each other, creating a travel corridor – or “travel bubble” between the two countries.

Why is China pushing Australia for its influence over the Pacific Islands?

Both countries successfully flattened the coronavirus curves by the end of April, but Australia is currently facing an increase in cases in the state of Victoria.

Including Pacific Island countries Fiji, Samoa and Solomon Islands asked to join the plan.

Until now, there was no publicly disclosed plan between the Pacific Islands and China for a similar travel balloon. Currently, China seems to focus on neighboring borders – southern Guangdong province is negotiating with Hong Kong and Macau for a travel balloon.

The coronavirus deadlocks put enormous pressure on the tourism-dependent economies of the Pacific countries, and Australia and New Zealand are the main tourist resource here. In 2018, the two countries contributed to more than 1 million foreign arrivals in the Pacific region and made up 51% of tourists. report From the South Pacific Tourism Organization. In contrast, 124,939 Chinese tourists visited the Pacific Islands in 2018, down 10.9% compared to the previous year.

Some Australian politicians also want to see the Trans-Pacific bubble.

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The ruling Liberal party lawmaker Dave Sharma said in the Australian newspaper last month that this article will help Canberra’s Pacific neighbors economically and “continue to see Australia as its first choice partner”.

“The strategic competition in the Pacific is alive and well, China and other countries want to play a bigger role. It is important that our influence and footprint in our close neighbors are visible.”

While it is not the primary motivation tool for a geopolitical travel bubble, the main factor is the urge to recycle economies, Pryke – removing travel restrictions between Australia and the Pacific Islands, said some geopolitical gains will be achieved for Canberra and Wellington.

“In a way, as the pandemic continues around the world, Australia and New Zealand will be the gatekeepers for entry into the Pacific. This will of course provide more geopolitical advantages to Australia and New Zealand.”

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About the Author: Abbott Hopkins

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