Will the trip to Pacific Island give Australia an advantage in its competition with China?

Will the trip to Pacific Island give Australia an advantage in its competition with China?

The opening of a Chinese embassy in Kiribati, a nation of 33 atolls and reef islands in the central Pacific, may have seemed strange – especially during a pandemic. Only three other countries have embassies in the island nation: Australia, New Zealand and Cuba.

However, Kiribati is the site of growing geopolitical competition.

Last September, diplomatic recognition was changed by Taipei in Beijing. China considers the self-governing island of Taiwan a divided province and has been chasing seven of its diplomatic allies since 2016.

And this week, Kiribati President Beijing President Taneti Maamau – who oversaw the country’s diplomatic shift – carefully won the election following a campaign for closer ties with China, defeating an opposition opponent who was sympathetic to Taiwan.

Kiribati is the latest example of Beijing’s growing influence in the Pacific, consisting of a series of resource-rich islands that control vital floating roads between Asia and the Americas.
The picturesque islands have long been aligned with the United States, which has a large military presence, and allies such as Australia, the region largest donor and security partner. However, in recent years, many have developed closer ties with China due to Beijing’s diplomatic and economic approach – creating a line of damage for geopolitical tensions.

Now, as Camera and Beijing are helping the region, the possibility of a travel bubble between the Pacific and Australian islands has given the competition a new dimension.

Deepening the range

In 2006, then-Prime Minister Wen Jiabao became the highest-ranking Chinese official to visit the Pacific Islands. He committed $ 3 billion in yuan ($ 424 million) in favorable terms for investment in resource development, agriculture, fishing and other key industries, signaling Beijing’s interest in the region.
Today, Beijing is its second largest donor – after only Australia, according to data was compiled by the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank.

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

Chinese health experts give advice on how to fight corona video conferencing with their counterparts in the 10 Pacific island countries that share diplomatic relations with Beijing.
In March, China announced it donation $ 1.9 million in cash and medical supplies in countries to help them fight Covid-19. He also sent medical supplies, protective gear and test kits, according to Chinese embassies in the area.
Chinese medical teams are on the ground in nations including Samoa, helping local health authorities develop guidelines on how to control coronavirus. In Fiji, specialized military vehicles have been provided.
According to the World Health Organization, the Pacific said 312 cases and 7 deaths, most of whom are in the United States in Guam.

The islands have so far largely prevented the coronae thanks to their remote action and the first locking measures. However, local communities could face devastating consequences if the virus were to strike, due to inadequate health care and a lack of testing capacity, experts warned.

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

China’s Foreign Ministry denies this, saying China’s aid to the Pacific island nation is “genuine” and has “no political affiliation.”
Because China is challenging Australia for influence in the Pacific Islands

However, stronger ties can be helpful in times of need.

In May, when China faced a global backlash over the early handling of the coronavirus epidemic, it turned to the Pacific for support. A few days before the World Health Assembly meeting in May, ministers from 10 Pacific island nations attended a teleconference. at Covid-19 convened by China.

The meeting ended with a brilliant confirmation of China’s corona response.

“That’s what the Chinese government needed,” said Dengua Zang of the Australian National University in Canberra.

In joint press release Following the event, the nations of the Pacific island praised China for its “open, transparent and responsible approach to the adoption of timely and effective countermeasures and the exchange of experiences of restraint”.

The Trump administration has repeatedly accused China of the pandemic, while Canberra has outraged Beijing with its request for an independent investigation into the origin of the virus.

Australia is coming in

China’s assistance to the Pacific in Coronation, however, pale compared to the financial support provided by Australia. Last month, Camera he said It has spent $ 100 million ($ 69 million) to provide “rapid financial support” to 10 countries in the region, with the money being redistributed by existing aid programs.
Australia has also recently announced that it will broadcast popular domestic television shows such as “Neighbors” and “Masterchef” in seven Pacific island nations – a move widely seen as a soft push to counter China’s growing influence.

“The Australian government has made it clear that there can be no room for a vacuum, whether it is the hard force, the soft force, the aid front or the medical front,” Pryke said.

“They can’t leave the void because they’re afraid China will fill it.”

This was on the Australian radar before the pandemic. After taking office in 2018, Prime Minister Scott Morrison launched the Pacific Step Up initiative, which includes increasing foreign aid and creating a $ 1.5 billion infrastructure fund for the area.

Travel bubble

One way the pandemic could affect geopolitical rivalries in the Pacific is through selective easing of travel restrictions between countries.

As Australia and New Zealand are under the control of the corona, politicians talk about opening the borders between them, creating a travel corridor – or “travel bubble” – between the two nations.

Both countries had successfully balanced corona curves by the end of April, although Australia is now facing an increase in cases in the state of Victoria.

Pacific islands include Fiji, Samoa and Solomon Islands have requested to participate in the program.
Aerial view of Erakor Island and the coast of Port Vila in Vanuatu.

So far, no plan has been made public between the Pacific islands and China for a similar travel bubble. For now, China seems to be focusing on its neighboring borders – the southern province of Guangdong has discussed with Hong Kong and Macao a travel bubble.

Cranial exclusion has put enormous pressure on the tourism economies of the Pacific countries, and Australia and New Zealand are the main sources of tourism there. In 2018, the two countries contributed more than 1 million foreign arrivals to the Pacific region, representing 51% of tourist arrivals, according to report by the South Pacific Tourism Organization. By comparison, 124,939 Chinese tourists visited the Pacific Islands in 2018, down 10.9% from the previous year.

Some Australian politicians are also willing to see a trans-Pacific bubble.

Dave Sharma, a member of the ruling Liberal Party, wrote in an Australian newspaper last month that the inclusion would help Cumberra’s neighbors in the Pacific financially and ensure that “they continue to see Australia as their first choice partner.”

“Strategic competition in the Pacific is alive and well, with China and other countries seeking to play a bigger role. It is important that our influence and footprint in our immediate neighborhood is visible,” he wrote.

While geopolitics is not the primary incentive for a travel bubble – rather, the key lever is the drive to bring economies back to the forefront, Pryke said – lifting travel restrictions between Australia and the Pacific Islands will secure some geopolitical gains. for Canberra and Wellington.

“In a way, Australia and New Zealand would become guardians of access to the Pacific, while the pandemic continues around the world. That, of course, will give Australia and New Zealand further geopolitical advantages,” he said.

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