Island nations should not be turned into military strongholds

China is attempting to expand its military influence by intensifying its diplomatic offensive on South Pacific island nations. The United States, Australia and Japan must work together to deal with the issue so that regional stability will not be undermined.

China held a foreign ministers’ meeting with 10 South Pacific island nations in Fiji. The move, immediately following the Japan-U.S.-Australia-India Quad summit in Tokyo, is clearly intended to counter the strengthening unity between the United States and its allies.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi proposed economic assistance and called for signing an agreement on cooperation in a wide range of fields, including security, trade and data communications, but the agreement reportedly was shelved because some countries opposed security cooperation.

It is quite natural for island nations to be cautious about such a move. China signed a security agreement with the Solomon Islands in April, which is believed to allow China to dispatch its military and security forces and have its naval vessels call there.

Before the meeting, the Federated States of Micronesia, which has close ties with the United States, reportedly urged each participating country not to accept the proposal, saying security cooperation with China threatens regional stability.

Island nations are not facing a major military threat. For China, security cooperation may have the advantage of building a bridgehead against the United States, but for countries in the region, the risk of being caught up in a U.S.-China confrontation may be greater.

The reason the conclusion of the agreement between China and island nations was shelved is probably because such concerns could not be dispelled.

The stability of the South Pacific has been maintained with the U.S.-Australia alliance at its core. If the Chinese military becomes more active through the construction of ports, harbors, runways and other infrastructure in island nations, there is concern that regional order and freedom of navigation could be threatened.

It is a sign of the sense of urgency that the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has sent a series of high-ranking government and military officials to the island nations.

Four countries in the region, including Palau, have diplomatic relations with Taiwan. It is important for the United States to step up its engagement with the island nations to prevent China from driving a wedge into those relations.

It has been decided that Fiji will join the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) initiative. Expanding economic cooperation is an effective countermeasure against China.

Rising sea levels due to global warming are a matter of life and death for island nations. It is hoped that the administration of new Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, which is focusing on tackling climate change, will play a leading role in the region by stepping up its support efforts.

Japan organizes the Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting every three years. There is a need to strengthen relations through such frameworks, as well as economic assistance and human resources development.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 3, 2022)