China seeks to expand South Pacific influence in meeting with PNG foreign minister

China seeks to expand South Pacific influence in meeting with PNG foreign minister

The foreign ministers of China and Papua New Guinea will meet in Beijing today.

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Photo: Reuters

Talks come as concern grows over China’s South Pacific influence

The foreign ministers of China and Papua New Guinea meet in Beijing today amid rumours that China is seeking a larger military presence in the South Pacific.

While denied by China and Vanuatu, the rumoured host country, the latter has benefited from over $2 billion in foreign aid from China and many of its neighbours have received similar sums. In spite of this, many Pacific countries have primarily sought to highlight their non-aligned status and the dominant role played by Australia and NZ in the Pacific Islands Forum. While unlikely, any Chinese military presence in the South Pacific would be viewed by Canberra and Washington as a strategic threat and an early challenge to US pre-eminence in the Pacific.

It is unlikely that China will be able to substantially counter Australian and American influence in the South Pacific in the short-term. However, with Australian aid levels consistently low and US policy in the region uncertain, greater Chinese economic cooperation would be welcomed by many South Pacific countries. Long-term, countries like Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea are expected to use the increased geopolitical competition to attract better aid terms and loans from traditional donors, like Australia.

 

Delve deeper: A sea of uncertainty: Pacific Islands Forum diplomacy