Sydney, Australia, May 26 (EFE).- Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi began a tour of South Pacific islands on Thursday, seeking to extend its influence through a pact focusing on security, which has raised concerns in neighboring Australia and other nations involved in the region.
According to a document accessed by several media entities, China intends to propose a five-year plan for cooperation on “traditional and non-traditional” security issues to some dozen south Pacific nations
In this backdrop, Wang made his first stop in the Solomon Islands on Thursday, marking the the start of a 10-day tour that includes visits to Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and East Timor.
The Solomon Islands is the only country in the area with which China already has signed a contentious security agreement, which was made public just over a month ago and which opens the door for sending Chinese security forces to the island country.
During his visit, Wang said that China strongly supports the Solomon Islands in safeguarding their national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity, according to a statement by the Chinese foreign ministry Thursday.
The statement underlined that the Chinese side was committed to working with the Solomon Islands to implement the consensus reached between the leaders of both countries.
Following the recent security pack between the two countries, Australia and its partner, the United States, fear that Beijing will establish a military base in the Solomon Islands.
Wang’s visit to Solomon is expected to proceed with the same level of secrecy that the security agreement was negotiated.
In this regard, access to events have been blocked for journalists accredited to international media, while those who are allowed entry have little room to ask questions, according to The Guardian newspaper.
The remainder of Wang’s tour – which includes a high-level delegation – is also expected to follow a similar pattern, especially after the recent leaks about the minister’s alleged plans in the area.
According to the leaked document about Beijing’s plans of security pacts with the island nations, China would seek to train the local police, as well as gain more access to the area’s natural and maritime resources, thus opening the door to the possibility of establishing a free trade area with these nations.
The situation has further strained China’s ties with Australia, the traditional security ally of the South Pacific islands.
Australia’s newly-elected Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Thursday that they will “respond” to China’s movements to increase its influence in the Pacific.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, who was in Fiji Thursday, urged the South Pacific islands to consider where they would like to be in three or ten years, when deciding whether to join the pact with China.
The Federated States of Micronesia’s President David Panuelo warned in a letter to 21 Pacific countries that China’s communique should be rejected under fears it could spark a new “Cold War” between China and the West.
“The practical impacts, however, of Chinese control over our communications infrastructure, our ocean territory and the resources within them, and our security space, aside from impacts on our sovereignty, is that it increases the chances of China getting into conflict with Australia, Japan, the United States and New Zealand,” he said.
In the face of China’s recent outreach in the area, the partners of the Quad group – the United States, Japan, Australia and India – pledged Tuesday to strengthen their cooperation with the Pacific island countries and announced a $50 billion package of assistance for infrastructure projects. EFE