Tensions over Chinese influence loom large at Pacific Island Forum

Leaders from 18 different countries will meet in Tuvalu today for the 50th annual Pacific Islands Forum meeting. A number

pacific island leaders forum

Photo: DFAT

Leaders from 18 different countries will meet in Tuvalu today for the 50th annual Pacific Islands Forum meeting.

A number of topics are on the agenda today, ranging from environmental reforms to tackle climate change to the economic consequences of Chinese infrastructure loans.

On the issue of Chinese lending, China has provided approximately $1.47 billion concessional loans since 2011 to several of the states attending today’s conference, including the Cook Islands, Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu.

A number of other attending countries—particularly Australia and New Zealand—are concerned that Beijing is establishing naval bases in the region, exemplified by the construction of a wharf in Vanuatu large enough to base warships.

Aware of the inability of the countries taking loans from China to repay their debts, Beijing hopes to use these loans for political leverage. Given how dependent the countries are that receive these loans, it is unlikely that the small PIF countries will turn their backs on Chinese aid in the short to medium term, while being even more unable to do so in the long term.

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