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Major power delegations descend on Tuvalu for final day of Pacific Islands Forum

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Major power delegations descend on Tuvalu for final day of Pacific Islands Forum

china pacific islands forum
Photo: Pacific Islands Forum

Today marks the fifth and final day of the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu, where regional leaders will meet with Chinese, Japanese, EU and American delegations. This week’s discussions have primarily centred on climate change and infrastructure investment, both of which have become increasingly contentious issues among South Pacific nations.

Discussions between Pacific Island representatives and the Chinese delegation are indicative of the region’s growing importance to major world powers. Indeed, in July, the Australian government unveiled the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific, which will provide some $1.3 billion for development loans and grants to Pacific partners.

The measure is a thinly veiled bid to counterbalance China’s growing influence in the region. Beijing pledged $4 billion in development loans and grants to the Pacific region in 2017, and has gained leverage from resulting debts—a practice the US has dubbed “predatory economics”. For example, Papua New Guinea asked China to refinance its nearly $8 billion national debt this month, in a blow to Australian influence. Growing fears that China could build naval bases throughout the Pacific have further exacerbated tensions.

Geopolitical wrangling between China, Australia and Canberra’s allies, like the US, has thus elevated the profile of the South Pacific considerably. Expect this competition to ramp up in the medium-term, bringing new development deals to the region, with major economic and security implications for all sides.

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