China wants 10 Pacific countries to sign a comprehensive agreement that covers everything, security included, in a bid to take control of the region. One leader says this is a "game-changing" move by Beijing.
The Associated Press obtained a draft of the agreement. It shows that China is interested in training Pacific police officers, collaborating on traditional and non-traditional security and expanding law enforcement cooperation.
China and the United States want to develop a joint marine plan for fisheries. This would include the lucrative Pacific tuna catch. It would also increase cooperation in running the region's internet networks. China mentions also the possibility of establishing a free trade zone with the Pacific countries.
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi, along with a 20-strong delegation, have begun a trip to the region this week.
Wang will be visiting seven countries he hopes to endorse the "Common Development Vision", which includes the Solomon Islands (Kiribati), Samoa, Samoa), Fiji, Tonga and Vanuatu as well as Papua New Guinea.
Wang is also meeting with the Federated States of Micronesia, Niue, and Cook Islands to discuss potential signatories. Wang hopes that the nations will agree to the agreement in a joint communique. This is after the May 30 meeting in Fiji, which he is hosting with foreign ministers of each of the 10 countries.
However, Micronesia's President David Panuelo wrote an eight-page letter addressed to leaders of Pacific nations stating that his country won't endorse the plan and warning them of the dire consequences if they do.
Panuelo stated in a letter to the AP that while the agreement may sound attractive with words like "equity", and "justice", there are many worrying details.
He said that China could be allowed to control and own the region's fisheries, communications infrastructure, and other issues. He stated that China could listen in to phone conversations and intercept emails.
Panuelo stated in his letter that the agreement was "an intent to move those of us who have diplomatic relations with China very near to Beijing's orbit and intrinsically tie the whole of our societies to them."
He warned that the agreement could lead to increased geopolitical tensions, and regional instability.
Panuelo wrote that the Common Development Vision was "the single most important proposed agreement in the Pacific" and it "threatens "to bring a new Cold War era, and worse, a World War."
Panuelo declined comment to the letter and the proposed agreement.
Wang Wenbin, spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, stated Wednesday that he did not know anything about Panuelo’s letter.
He said, "But I'm not in agreement at all with the argument China-South Pacific cooperation will trigger a new Cold War."
He stated that China has a long history with friendly relations with South Pacific islands countries and has long provided them technical and economic assistance without attaching any political strings.
Micronesia, like other Pacific countries, is increasingly caught between Washington's and Beijing's competing interests.
Through a Compact of Free Association, Micronesia maintains close ties with the U.S. It also enjoys what Panuelo calls a "Great Friendship", which he hopes will last despite his opposition.
Many in the region and elsewhere will find the security aspects of this agreement particularly concerning, especially since China signed a separate security deal with the Solomon Islands last month.
There are fears that China might send troops to the Solomon Islands or establish a military base in the area, which is not far from Australia. China and the Solomon Islands both deny any plans to establish a base.
After a virtual meeting in October, the May 30 meeting between Wang and the Pacific Islands' foreign ministers will be their second.
The draft agreement will be closely scrutinized by those who are interested in China's Pacific role.
It includes the following provisions: "China will provide high-level and intermediate police training to Pacific Island country governments."
According to the agreement, the two countries will increase their cooperation in traditional and non-traditional security fields. They will also "expand law enforcement cooperation and jointly combat transnational criminality.