NOOSA – Last week’s meeting of Pacific Island foreign ministers with China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, included commitments by China to increase its activity in addressing Covid, poverty reduction and climate action.
Wang chaired the meeting which included Soroi Eoe of Papua New Guinea, senior ministers from Kiribati, Fiji, Tonga, Niue, Vanuatu, Micronesia, Solomon Islands and Henry Puna, secretary general of the Pacific Islands Forum.
During the meeting China announced three Pacific Island initiatives: the establishment of a reserve of emergency Covid supplies, a poverty reduction and development cooperation centre and a climate action cooperation centre.
It also intends to hold a China-Pacific Island fisheries cooperation and development forum before the end of this year.
According to a joint statement released by China, the meeting saw “an in-depth exchange of views” and said their “comprehensive strategic partnership featuring mutual respect and common development had steadily deepened and produced fruitful outcomes”.
There were the usual invocations of equality “regardless of size, strength and wealth”, joint advocacy to “peace, development, equity, justice, democracy and freedom”, “a community with a shared future for mankind” and “respect for each other's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
And of course there was he standard reaffirmation by Pacific countries of “the one-China principle and the importance of upholding the principle of non-interference of internal affairs in international relations”.
The Pacific Island nations “commended China's major strategic achievements in containing the virus, and thanked China for actively providing medical supplies, vaccines, and financial support”.
China then announced the establishment of a China-Pacific Island reserve of emergency Covid supplies.
The nine leaders “expressed opposition to any attempt to obstruct vaccine cooperation”, a barb clearly aimed at Australia, which China has in the past accused of obstructing the roll-out of Chinese vaccines in PNG.
Agreement that the nations need to speed up the implementation of sustainable development in the region set the stage for China’s second announcement, that it will establish a China-Pacific Island poverty reduction and development cooperation centre. There is no indication of what exactly this will do or where it will be located.
China also said that before the end of the year it will convene a China-Pacific Island fisheries cooperation and development forum.
The ministers said their countries share the view that climate change is a major challenge facing humanity and that they are committed to jointly promoting the full and effective implementation of the Paris Agreement and “a fair and equitable system of global climate governance”.
It was at this point that Wang announced that China will set up a China-Pacific Island climate action cooperation centre, although again no details were provided.
The striking feature of the meeting was China’s forthright move to stake claims for cooperation with the Pacific islands on Covid, development and climate by establishing what appears to be an institutional base for each issue.
Australia, still struggling for a coherent PNG and Pacific policy and drained of credibility when it comes to climate change, gives every appearance of being left behind in this contest for regional influence.