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Carrier not right envoy for South Pacific

By  Jin Canrong (Global Times)

07:58, August 30, 2012

(Global Times/ Sun Ying)

Avarua, capital of the Cook Islands, is a city that most Chinese people have never heard of. But on August 27, an important world political figure, US State Secretary Hillary Clinton, paid a visit there, along with a strong delegation and an aircraft carrier for "logistic" services.

Clinton came to Avarua for the 43rd meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum to take place from August 27 to 31, the first time a US Secretary of State has participated in this forum.

This is another step in the US' back to Asia policy, and its target is still China. This is perhaps too banal a move to cause any excitement.

According to media reports, China has been seeking for economic cooperation and political dialogue with nations and regions in the South Pacific. This unnerves the US, which has considered this region as its domain since World War II.

The South Pacific is a strategic hotspot. Although only a few island nations and regions are there, they are located at the center of the Pacific and administrate large areas of ocean. Politically, these countries and regions possess a few dozen ballots at the UN and will mostly act together when voting on international affairs.

However, the US hadn't placed much strategic importance over this region in the past. Its strategic focus was on Europe before the Cold War. Afterward, its attention was glued on the Middle East before shifting to East Asia as a result of terrorism. It has largely entrusted the South Pacific to Australia. The Cook Islands are also in a free association with the country of New Zealand.

But over the past decade, China's influence over the South Pacific has been increasingly steady. It has enjoyed rapid development in its ties with countries and regions there, becoming a major investor. It is now starting to facilitate political dialogues with its regional partners. The US may have evaluated that Australia alone is no longer enough to hold China at bay.

Yet frankly, Clinton's action is not very appropriate. Sending a 50-strong delegation can certainly show the US' strength and capability, but dispatching an air carrier is the wrong move. The US has strong military power, and sending an air carrier to South Pacific reminds countries and regions there that the US can offer them good protection. But this is not what they need. Located far away from the center of world politics, these countries and regions in the South Pacific have been at peace since World War II and have been rarely troubled with security problems. What they really need is investment and technology, something that the US cannot offer them. The US is still a rich country, but its hands are tied up by its own financial woes and cannot possibly provide large sums of aid to the South Pacific nations and regions. Neither are private US entrepreneurs keen to invest in these remote locations.
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