China has been accused of contributing loans and aid for more influence in the Pacific Islands. On Thursday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, argued against the criticism saying, “In providing assistance, China fully respects the will of governments and people of the countries in question…We never interfere in other countries’ domestic affairs and our assistance never comes with political conditions.” Rimbink Pato, Foreign Minister for Papua New Guinea has also defended China, saying that “There is no threat to our sovereignty.”
Nearby countries, particularly Australia, have been skeptical of China and Papua New Guinea’s friendly relations. In January, Australian Government frontbencher Concetta Fierravanti-Wells told The Australian that China had been funding “useless buildings” and “roads that don’t go anywhere” in the Pacific. According to the Lowy Institute, China has contributed more than AU$2.3 billion in aid to the Pacific since 2006.
In light of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’s Summit, Mr Wang’s first visit comes before President Xi Jinping’s, who will be announcing new projects during his own trip. Despite greater focus on Chinese influence in the Pacific, and Australia’s own concerns about the issue, Australia is still the largest donor in the region, according to the analysis done by the Lowy Institute. Mr Pato also said that the Chinese-Papua New Guinea partnership “does not in any way shift the balance of power.”
The accusations against China in the Pacific also raise the issue of China’s tensions with the U.S. and their military influence in the South China Sea. Although the two issues are not the same – there is no funding or aid being contributed to South East Asian countries – China’s militarization of Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands does not consider claims on the Reef by the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Furthermore, the Chinese claim on Mischief Reef because of geographic advantages disregards the proximity of the Philippines and how the Reef lies within the country’s exclusive economic zone.
In the case of the South China Sea, Chinese involvement has caused tension instead of friendly relations. It questions the legitimacy of China’s motives for militarization and its so-called historic right to the region. Without proper communication with the U.S., hostile relations could be formed, potentially leading to Cold War-like circumstances. Close calls like this do not make for better relations and there needs to be communication between the U.S. and China to avoid any threatening situations.
As for China’s growing influence in the Pacific, there should be a declaration of China’s intentions in the region to avoid tensions. Ideally, nearby countries should come together so each party knows each others’ intentions. There should not be a need to question motives that are up in the air; and while there may still be underlying tension, at least intentions have been made known.