China Unable to Expand Security Agreements With Pacific Island Nations

News AnalysisChinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi comes up mostly empty-handed on a sweeping security pact and trade deal in his recent tour of the Pacific region. Shut out of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and unable to secure Solomon-Island-style security pacts with other Pacific Island nations, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is pushing forward with the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). At the fourth Quad Summit in Tokyo on May 24, the Biden administration launched the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). It has since been joined by 13 members, including seven of ten ASEAN members, the four Quad members, South Korea, and New Zealand. This was a crucial development as the CCP had recently convinced the Solomon Islands to sign a security pact. The U.S. administration has responded with greater determination to expand its regional presence beyond the Quad, AUKUS, and the Five Eyes—all of which have a defense-related purpose. Even though the IPEF is not a trade agreement, it will focus on issues of economics, supply chains, and security. The grouping is significant because the IPEF is the first economic multilateral arrangement in the Indo-Pacific that India has ever joined. Additionally, IPEF is one of the first U.S. groupings to include South Korea. The presence of military and economic powerhouse Japan and the solid support of Australia now being complemented by the economy and military of South Korea bodes well for the group. However, it is also true that all IPEF members are current members of the RCEP. (From L to R) Leaders and representatives from Singapore, Laos, Cambodia, New Zealand, India, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines pose for a group photo during the 3rd Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Summit in Bangkok, Thailand, on Nov. 4, 2019. (Manan Vatsyayana/AFP via Getty Images) The battle for the Pacific between the United States and China dates back to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade agreement established in 2016 with U.S. support. Members had hoped that the United States would be the backbone of the group to counter China’s growing economic influence in the region. However, many in the U.S. government, including Hillary Clinton, opposed this agreement. In 2017, Donald Trump removed the United States from the TPP as one of his first acts as president to protect U.S. jobs. While this was the right thing to do from an economic standpoint, it sent a signal of abandonment to U.S. allies in the Pacific. Without the U.S. leadership and support, the Pacific nations signed onto the Chinese-led RCEP, which came into effect in January 2022. As of May, it had already been determined that the signatories’ trade with China had increased by 6.9 percent compared to one year ago. RCEP upped the ante by actively courting the Pacific Island nations. At the same time, Wang set off on his own round of visits immediately after the U.S. Indo-Pacific tour ended in the hopes of winning back countries that the IPEF may have nudged closer to the United States. Wang was promoting RCEP and hoping to sign a broad economic and security pact like the one signed with the Solomon Islands back in April. On May 30, he met with leaders from Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Niue, and Vanuatu to discuss a five-point plan for trade and cooperation. Many of the Island nations expressed concern or opposition to signing an agreement with China. The Federated States of Micronesia, one of the invited nations and a lynchpin in the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy, voiced opposition to the draft communique with the CCP. “Aside from the impacts on our sovereignty … increases the chances of China getting into conflict with Australia, Japan, the United States, and New Zealand on the day when Beijing decides to invade Taiwan,” FSM President David Panuelo wrote in a letter to the leaders of other Pacific Island nations, warning them against signing the CCP deal. The president of Palau also urged others not to sign. Palau recognizes Taiwan and has no diplomatic ties with the CCP. Samoa President Fiame Naomi Mata’afa said on June 2 that it was unreasonable for Beijing to expect the Pacific nations to sign a security and trade agreement so quickly. In the end, the attending nations refused to sign, stating that more discussion or revisions were needed. Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said that more talks must be held and that the Pacific nations stressed the need for a consensus. Despite failure with the Pacific Island nations, Wang was able to convince Timor-Leste to sign a series of economic agreements. Security was not part of this discussion. This was a small victory of sorts for the CCP, which Beijing may be able to leverage in the future. On June 2, during a meeting with the Samoan president, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong reassured the Pac

China Unable to Expand Security Agreements With Pacific Island Nations

News Analysis

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi comes up mostly empty-handed on a sweeping security pact and trade deal in his recent tour of the Pacific region.

Shut out of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and unable to secure Solomon-Island-style security pacts with other Pacific Island nations, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is pushing forward with the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

At the fourth Quad Summit in Tokyo on May 24, the Biden administration launched the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). It has since been joined by 13 members, including seven of ten ASEAN members, the four Quad members, South Korea, and New Zealand. This was a crucial development as the CCP had recently convinced the Solomon Islands to sign a security pact.

The U.S. administration has responded with greater determination to expand its regional presence beyond the Quad, AUKUS, and the Five Eyes—all of which have a defense-related purpose. Even though the IPEF is not a trade agreement, it will focus on issues of economics, supply chains, and security.

The grouping is significant because the IPEF is the first economic multilateral arrangement in the Indo-Pacific that India has ever joined. Additionally, IPEF is one of the first U.S. groupings to include South Korea. The presence of military and economic powerhouse Japan and the solid support of Australia now being complemented by the economy and military of South Korea bodes well for the group. However, it is also true that all IPEF members are current members of the RCEP.

Epoch Times Photo
(From L to R) Leaders and representatives from Singapore, Laos, Cambodia, New Zealand, India, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines pose for a group photo during the 3rd Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Summit in Bangkok, Thailand, on Nov. 4, 2019. (Manan Vatsyayana/AFP via Getty Images)

The battle for the Pacific between the United States and China dates back to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade agreement established in 2016 with U.S. support. Members had hoped that the United States would be the backbone of the group to counter China’s growing economic influence in the region.

However, many in the U.S. government, including Hillary Clinton, opposed this agreement. In 2017, Donald Trump removed the United States from the TPP as one of his first acts as president to protect U.S. jobs. While this was the right thing to do from an economic standpoint, it sent a signal of abandonment to U.S. allies in the Pacific.

Without the U.S. leadership and support, the Pacific nations signed onto the Chinese-led RCEP, which came into effect in January 2022. As of May, it had already been determined that the signatories’ trade with China had increased by 6.9 percent compared to one year ago.

RCEP upped the ante by actively courting the Pacific Island nations. At the same time, Wang set off on his own round of visits immediately after the U.S. Indo-Pacific tour ended in the hopes of winning back countries that the IPEF may have nudged closer to the United States.

Wang was promoting RCEP and hoping to sign a broad economic and security pact like the one signed with the Solomon Islands back in April. On May 30, he met with leaders from Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Niue, and Vanuatu to discuss a five-point plan for trade and cooperation.

Many of the Island nations expressed concern or opposition to signing an agreement with China. The Federated States of Micronesia, one of the invited nations and a lynchpin in the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy, voiced opposition to the draft communique with the CCP.

“Aside from the impacts on our sovereignty … increases the chances of China getting into conflict with Australia, Japan, the United States, and New Zealand on the day when Beijing decides to invade Taiwan,” FSM President David Panuelo wrote in a letter to the leaders of other Pacific Island nations, warning them against signing the CCP deal.

The president of Palau also urged others not to sign. Palau recognizes Taiwan and has no diplomatic ties with the CCP.

Samoa President Fiame Naomi Mata’afa said on June 2 that it was unreasonable for Beijing to expect the Pacific nations to sign a security and trade agreement so quickly.

In the end, the attending nations refused to sign, stating that more discussion or revisions were needed. Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said that more talks must be held and that the Pacific nations stressed the need for a consensus.

Despite failure with the Pacific Island nations, Wang was able to convince Timor-Leste to sign a series of economic agreements. Security was not part of this discussion. This was a small victory of sorts for the CCP, which Beijing may be able to leverage in the future.

On June 2, during a meeting with the Samoan president, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong reassured the Pacific Island nations that Australia is determined to help with economic development and security in the region. At the same time, the United States will be moving forward with strengthening the Quad and the IPEF.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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Antonio Graceffo, Ph.D., has spent more than 20 years in Asia. He is a graduate of the Shanghai University of Sport and holds a China-MBA from Shanghai Jiaotong University. Graceffo works as an economics professor and China economic analyst, writing for various international media. Some of his books on China include "Beyond the Belt and Road: China’s Global Economic Expansion" and "A Short Course on the Chinese Economy."