The draft proposal that China sent to potential partners in the South Pacific calls for greater cooperation in security, policing and cybersecurity, and in economic development, among other areas.
Wang’s tour began Thursday in the Solomon Islands and will bring the minister to Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and East Timor, according to China’s Foreign Ministry.
Already, at least one country to which the agreement was directed has raised concerns, and there has been widespread reaction from other regional powers wary of China’s intentions.
In a letter to 22 other Pacific leaders seen by CNN, Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo said the draft proposal aims to shift Pacific nations that have diplomatic relations with China “very close to Beijing’s orbit.”
Panuelo argued that in addition to affecting the sovereignty of the Pacific nations, the signing of such an agreement could lead to a new “cold war” amid tensions between China and the West.
The draft proposal also sparked outrage in Australia, where new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese – who has criticized his predecessor’s failure to dodge China’s deal with the Solomon Islands – said on Thursday that his country “cannot afford” a “drop the ball” in his response.
Last month, the Solomon Islands’ prime minister, Manasseh Sogavari, gave assurances that the Honiara agreement with Beijing would “complement” an existing security pact with Australia, and would not “negatively affect or undermine peace and harmony in our region”. The Solomon Islands are located about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) off the northeastern coast of Australia.
However, in a sign of the Albanian government’s concern about Chinese expansion in the region, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong traveled to Fiji on Thursday, where – in a letter that did not directly mention China – she presented Australia as a “partner”. This does not come with conditions and does not impose unbearable financial burdens.”
“We are a partner that will not undermine Pacific priorities or Pacific institutions,” Wong said. “We believe in transparency. We believe in true partnerships.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Wednesday that she “strongly supports the view that within the Pacific we have the means and capacity to respond to any security challenges that exist”.
Beijing has not confirmed that it is seeking a multilateral agreement in the region.
Wang’s visit was aimed at “further promoting high-level exchanges, consolidating political mutual trust, expanding practical cooperation, and deepening people-to-people ties so as to build a closer community with a shared future for China and the Pacific island nations.” A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Wednesday.
The spokesperson also responded when asked about concerns that a Pacific island security agreement could lead to a cold war – describing these “sensational statements”.
In Washington on Wednesday, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States “recognizes that China is seeking to negotiate a range of arrangements during the Secretary of State’s visit to the region.”
“We are concerned that these reported agreements may be negotiated in a hasty and opaque process,” he said, referring to what he described as Beijing’s pattern of progress as “vague and ambiguous deals,” adding that the United States respects countries’ ability. to make their own sovereign decisions.
The proposed draft security pact and Wang’s tour come amid growing concern from other regional powers about Beijing’s ambitions in the Indo-Pacific.
In the East China Sea, China claims sovereignty over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, also known as the Diaoyu Islands. In recent years, the United States has reiterated its promise to defend the islands in the event of external aggression.