Chinese gifts for Pacific ‘friends’

BEIJING, 17 OCTOBWER 2019 (THE AUSTRALIAN) — China will roll out fresh offers of cash and red-carpet trips when Chinese Vice Premier Hu Chunhua meets Pacific leaders in Samoa next week to spruik Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative.

Mr Hu, a senior Chinese Communist Party Politburo member, will try to convince Pacific leaders of China’s commitment to “green” and “high-quality” development after widespread criticism of BRI projects in the West.

The third China-Pacific Island Countries Economic Development Co-operation Forum will be held in the Samoan capital, Apia, on October 20-21, amid growing anxiety in Australia, the US and Japan over Beijing’s push to bring Western Pacific nations into its orbit.

All Pacific nations that recognise Beijing’s One China policy have been invited, including new diplomatic partners Solomon Islands and Kiribati, while those recognising Taiwan are excluded.

According to Chinese state media, the theme of the forum is “open co-operation, shared development”.

“China will work with the participating Pacific island countries to plan the next stage of economic and trade co-operation and development,” China’s People’s Network said.

“Along with the process of China’s reform and opening up, China’s economic and trade ties with Pacific island countries are increasingly close.

“The Chinese side pays attention to and respects the development needs of the Pacific island countries, and the bilateral economic and trade business is more balanced.”

Meetings will be held on “issues of common interest” in trade, agriculture, forestry, fisheries, tourism and infrastructure investment. The forum comes as Scott Morrison’s $2bn Pacific infrastructure bank edges closer to signing its first funding deals with regional neighbours.

The Department of Foreign ­Affairs and Trade has confirmed it is “actively ­assessing a range of infrastructure projects in the Pacific for financial support”.

Lowy Institute Pacific program director Jonathan Pryke said some big infrastructure deals were likely to be on the table as Beijing sought to strengthen its influence in the region.

“It’s a big deal that such a senior Chinese official is heading to the region, and I would expect him to not come empty-handed,” he said.

“With the recent defection of Solomon Islands and Kiribati (from Taiwan), and now with this visit, China looks to be trying to regain momentum.

“The ball is now in China’s court to see how deep their resolve goes to building relationships and influence in the Pacific.

“I would expect this conference to be an important milestone in that,” he said. (PACNEWS)