US sends special envoy to Pacific island nations with competition with China in mind

By Yang Sheng (Global Times) 10:07, June 15, 2022

Since China is boosting cooperation for development and security with the island nations in the South Pacific, the US and its Western allies in the region are getting increasingly anxious as Washington sent a special envoy to visit the region on Tuesday.

The US sees the region as their "backyard" and would not allow the nations in the region to develop ties with other countries independently. The US only paid attention to Pacific island countries when it found its hegemony in the region was impacted, while China is focusing on development and sharing benefits with the region, analysts said.

US President Joe Biden's special envoy for talks with three "tiny but strategically important Pacific island nations" will lead a delegation to the Marshall Islands this week amid growing US worries about China's influence in the region, Reuters reported.

Joseph Yun, a veteran diplomat appointed by Biden in March, told Reuters he and his team would be in the Marshall Islands from June 14-16.

A spokesperson for the US State Department said Yun would hold talks on the Compact of Free Association (COFA) that governs US economic assistance for the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), which is due to expire next year.

The US has similar agreements with the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and Palau, which expire in 2023 and 2024, respectively, and Yun is also responsible for those negotiations.

The Pacific islands have emerged as "a key front in Washington's strategic competition with China," said Reuters' report, observers said. Since China is boosting its cooperation with the South Pacific island nations, this has made the US and its allies in the region like Australia more and more anxious as they see the region as their "backyard" and don't allow countries in the region to independently develop ties with other countries, especially a major power like China that Washington sees as competitor.

Chen Hong, director of the Australian Studies Centre at East China Normal University, told the Global Times on Tuesday that "the US has positioned China as a strategic rival that will try to replace its global hegemony. With this outdated Cold War mindset, the US has persisted to perceive the world as two binary parts, 'us and them.' The South Pacific has become an arena of contention for Washingtonto contain, deter and impede China's cooperation and partnership."

The Marshall Islands used to be a US nuclear weapons testing ground and nuclear waste dump site, Chen said. "The Pacific island countries (PICs) had long been marginalized by the US. However, since China has proactively and successfully engaged in mutual economic, social and cultural collaboration with the PICs as a constructive partner, the US has spared no effort to suppress and ostracize China's presence and interest in this region," he noted.

Zhong Feiteng, a research fellow on Asia-Pacific and global strategy from the Chinese Academy of Social Science, said that since Antony Blinken visited Fiji in February, the first visit made by a US Secretary of State to the region in 36 years, the US is trying to send a signal to the world that it won't "let the PICs lean toward China."

When criticizing China's security cooperation with the Solomon Islands or groundlessly accusing China of militarizing the region, the US is actively increasing its military presence in the region, Zhong said, noting that "on the surface, the US claimed that it's discussing issues like climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and disaster relief. But in fact, China has done a much better job than the US for the region on these issues."

Cooperation between China and the PICs cover more than 20 fields including trade and investment, environmental protection, preventing and mitigating natural disasters, medical and public health service, as well as poverty alleviation, said Zhong.

Unlike China's cooperation focus on trade, development and improving the local people's livelihood, the US inputs toward the PICs are aimed at preserving its hegemony and its strategic competition with China, rather than the concrete benefits that could fundamentally help the regional countries.

Yun's visit is part of his negotiation mission to extend the COFA with the three countries, Chen said, noting that Washington's ultimate aim is to "form a clique of countries in the Pacific willing to serve its strategic purposes."

"Such contestation provoked by the US and potential confrontation will destabilize the local geopolitical status quo and sabotage the ongoing economic development that has been bringing about enormous improvement to the local economies and people's livelihood," Chen said.

(Web editor: Zhong Wenxing, Liang Jun)


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