US diplomacy in the Pacific to counter China’s influence

In the midst of a crisis with Russia over Ukraine, the United States does not forget its allies in Asia-Pacific. This is the message that the head of American diplomacy Antony Blinken came to bring during his tour this week in this Pacific region. After a three-day stopover in Australia where he met, on Friday February 11, his Australian, Japanese and Indian counterparts who form the so-called “Quad” alliance, Antony Blinken will go to Fiji on Saturday February 12, his first visit at this level. for forty years. On site, he will meet by videoconference with 18 leaders from the Pacific Islands with one and the same objective: to counter the growing influence of China throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

→ A YEAR AGO. Joe Biden at the summit with the “Quad”, an anti-China Asian alliance

From the start of discussions in Melbourne on Friday 11 February, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken assured that, beyond the current Russian threat in Ukraine, the longer-term challenge remains the advance of China, which calls into question the “traditional order”. “In my view there is little doubt that China’s ultimate ambition is to become the leading military, economic and political power, not only in the region but also in the world”he explained to the daily The Australian.

Diplomatic tension

Launched in 2007, the Quad group (United States, Australia, Japan and India) only really took shape about ten years later, after violent clashes on the border between India and China and a display of Chinese military might in the South China Sea. For Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, whose country is in full diplomatic tension with China, “We are a vital network of liberal democracies committed to practical cooperation and to ensuring that all Indo-Pacific countries, large and small, are able to make their own strategic decisions, without coercion. »

→ READ. Pacific: By helping Tonga, China demonstrates its military might

The Melbourne summit aims to deepen cooperation in areas such as the fight against Covid-19, information technology issues and climate change.

Beijing’s economic weapon

“It is obvious that the United States and its allies have understood that the Chinese presence in the region is increasingly worrying,” said Richard Clark, spokesman for President David Panuelo of the Federated States of Micronesia (population 105,000). During this videoconference interview, Antony Blinken and the leaders of 18 Pacific islands will discuss all the dangers of climate change but also the illegal fishing carried out by China in regional waters.

For several years China has continued to increase its economic, police and military presence in the region, while granting loans to these island states to build new infrastructure. “Beijing is using the economic weapon associated with its huge Silk Road project for an obvious geopolitical purpose”, analyzes Peter Connolly, a specialist in the Chinese presence in the Pacific at the University of Australia. Melanesia (Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu) has accepted its loans to finance numerous projects, not ignoring its increased dependence on China.

The fear of a future Chinese military base in the Pacific

Both Australia and the United States fear more than anything the eventual establishment of a Chinese military base in the Pacific. Last December, following protests, China already sent police trainers and anti-riot equipment to the Solomon Islands, population 712,000. This archipelago diplomatically recognized China, dropping Taiwan in 2019, at the same time as Kiribati (118,000 inhabitants).

Fiji (895,000 inhabitants), allies of Beijing, were the first in the Pacific to diplomatically recognize China in 1975, which has been supplying them with military equipment since 2018. Finally, after the recent eruption of a volcano on an island in the Tonga archipelago (99,000 inhabitants), China has shown its projection capacity by rapidly sending humanitarian aid by military aircraft and boats. This growing Chinese influence is more than ever the major challenge of the Quad.


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