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Insight Report: China’s Interest in the Pacific Islands


Insight Report: China’s Interest in the Pacific Islands

Foreign Brief Insight Report

China and US competition in the Pacific


While the US and China have been post-war rivals in the region for decades, that rivalry was relatively dormant until the new millennium, when a newly prosperous China challenged US economic hegemony globally. In the pacific, China competed with Taiwan for diplomatic primacy among Pacific states via economic development. However, Sino-American rivalry ramped up in recent years—and especially this year—when China’s economic presence veered towards militarization. Consequently, the US increased its political and security profile in the region—a trend that is almost certain to continue in the medium-to-long term future.


  • China’s rivalry with Taiwan has resulted in geopolitical competition between Beijing and Taipei to fish for allies. This battle for influence has seen China’s presence in the Pacific steadily increase since the 1990s, but it has particularly ramped up in the past decade.
  • This significantly stepped-up presence has been carried out amid the wider context of steadily heightening tension between the US and China borne out of their economic rivalry.
  • China is challenging post-World War II status quo powers in the Indo-Pacific—namely the US and its strategic ally, Australia.
  • Beijing’s challenge to the established powers in the Indo-Pacific has generally been confined to major economic aid and infrastructure development to Pacific island nations. However, in 2022, it veered into security cooperation for the first time. The economic and security ventures in the Indo-Pacific are an extension of its Maritime Silk Road development strategy, the naval route of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
  • China’s attachment to Taiwanese sovereignty – and given their military haste to patrol the Taiwan Strait during Pelosi’s August visit to Taipei – has evidently placed the nation at the epicenter of the Beijing-Washington regional power competition.
  • A rapidly expanding Chinese military and the subsequent rhetoric of Taiwanese dominance asserts a growing concern that localized warfare may occur – with US support for Taiwan seemingly left under the jurisdiction of its strategic ambiguity.


Likely Impact – Conclusion

  • Security:
    • The US is likely to further invest in the production of aircraft carriers in cooperation with allies and members of the QUAD as part of its Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS). South Korea and the US held joint warship drills for the first time in five years, while India recently launched its first indigenous aircraft carrier.
    • The US will help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines as part of its new AUKUS security alliance, allowing significantly upgraded patrolling capability in the Pacific.
    • The US and its allies will oversee the frequency of joint military exercises to ensure military readiness amid competition for advanced weapons technology with China.
  • Economic:
    • Taipei’s decision to join the US-led Chip 4 alliance, in turn consolidating much of Chinese access to semiconductor imports, will favor development towards supporting US, Japanese, and even South Korean supply chains.
    • BAE Systems alignment to US-based investment in chip technology via Taipei will accelerate regional US chip manufacturing despite the cost of mediating geopolitical tensions.
    • Chinese expansion of knowledge, infrastructure, and tech production has distanced Beijing-Washington economic relations. China will maintain its economic policies and debt relief systems that sway the hands of nations directly linked to its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
  • Political:
    • Sino-American competition for diplomatic allies in the Pacific; especially among the Pacific Island Forum states—of which US allies, Australia and New Zealand are members.
    • Increased profile of the Pacific Island Forum and Pacific states aspirations (especially on climate change issues).


See Also

Recent Events – “What’s Happening Look-a-like”

  • 09-20-22 Biden and Kishida meet during UN General Assembly
    • US President Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida met on the sidelines of the recent United Nations General Assembly session. US-Japanese cooperation- particularly the Free and Open Indo-Pacific initiative form a large part of both countries’ attempts to counter Chinese influence. Read more.
  • 09-15-22 Xi and Putin met face-to-face
    • Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Vladimir Putin held their first in-person meeting since the Winter Olympic Games in February. The two countries increasingly cooperate in joint foreign policy stances although China remains hesitant to directly support Russian actions in Ukraine. Read more.
  • 09-16-22 Modi and Xi meet on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting
    • The meeting was their first since border clashes in 2020 soured bilateral relations. India’s membership of the Quad and US alignment has put it at odds with China although India’s close relationship with Russia has provided an opportunity to improve ties. Read more.
  • 09-08-22 Exercise Pitch Black 2022 concluded
    • The joint Air Forces Exercise Pitch Black saw many nations involved for the first time in a message of unity against Chinese ambitions in the Indo-Pacific and forms part of US ambitions for an Asia-Pacific version of NATO. Read more.


Issue Deep Dives (Displays on the side of the Insight Report)

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