Pacific nations

China’s growing role in South Pacific nations cannot be stopped, says vice-minister Zheng Zeguang

  • No country need fear Beijing’s input in the region, which is not the domain of any single nation, says Zheng Zeguang
  • Xi Jinping due in Papua New Guinea for Apec summit and meetings with leaders of nations with diplomatic ties to China
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2018, 8:33pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2018, 10:44am

No country should or could stop China cooperating with South Pacific island nations, a Chinese official warned on Tuesday ahead of a summit involving Chinese President Xi Jinping and leaders in the region.

“The island region is not under the sphere of influence of any country and everyone should join together to help with the island nations,” Zheng Zeguang, the vice-minister of the Chinese foreign ministry, said at a press briefing in Beijing on Tuesday.

“The cooperation and aids we provide in the island nations are not targeting any third parties, and any country should not stop China’s friendly cooperation and communication with island nations – and of course they could not stop such cooperation and communication.”

Zheng said China was willing to cooperate with any countries in the region, but that other countries should “abandon the mentality of the cold war and the viewpoints of outdated zero-sum games” over China’s relations with the island nations.

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The remarks by Zheng come at a time when Beijing has been steadily stepping up its engagement with the South Pacific nations through increased financial assistance that has unsettled traditional powers in the region.

Some are concerned that Beijing is loading poorer countries with infrastructure-related debt that they cannot repay.

In the latest effort to cement Beijing’s ties with the South Pacific region, Xi is expected to make a state visit later this week to Papua New Guinea, which is also hosting a leaders’ summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec), a regional bloc comprising 21 economies.

Making his second visit to the region as president, Xi will this week also meet leaders from eight island nations with which Beijing has diplomatic ties, and announce “important measures for further cooperation with island nations”, Zheng said, without giving details.

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Beijing has diplomatic ties with Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Vanuatu, Samoa, Micronesia, the Cook Islands, Tonga and Niue, while six other countries, including Nauru, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands, have maintained diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the self-ruled island that Beijing views as a breakaway province.

China has spent US$1.3 billion on concessionary loans and gifts to nations in the region since 2011, surpassing New Zealand to become the Pacific’s second-largest donor after Australia and trigger concerns in the West that poor but resource-rich nations could be overburdened by debt and drift into the orbit of Beijing.

Australia, in particular, has become increasingly concerned at growing Chinese influence. Last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his country would provide Pacific countries with up to US$2.18 billion in grants and cheap loans to build infrastructure.

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Without mentioning Australia, Zheng said that Beijing “has no intention to move other countries’ cheese but has committed to make the cake of cooperation bigger”. He also urged countries to provide “substantial support to respond to the particular difficulties and urgent needs the island countries are facing”.