Fears raised over China’s stealthy ‘island-grabbing’ in the Pacific

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: REUTERS

LONDON, 26 SEPTEMBER 2018 (DAILY STAR.CO.UK) – The Asian superpower has been steadily building its influence, handing out US$1.3 billion in concessionary loans and gifts to nations in the region, such as Vanuatu Tonga and the Solomon Islands.

Australia, which is surrounded by smaller islands that Beijing is lavishing with attention, has already raised fears about China’s increasing capabilities.

Just recently, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government was reviewing its security in the Pacific, calling the Pacific a “high-priority area of strategic national security interest”.

Numerous questions have already been raised about where China gives gifts and invests in the region.

Experts have said the country is seeking to challenge the United States’ dominance there by eventually using economic leverage it gains over these tiny island nations.

A US National Security Strategy document from last year stated: “China is using its economic penalties, influence operations, and implied military threats to persuade other states to heed its political and security agenda.

“Chinese dominance risks diminishing the sovereignty of many states in the Indo-Pacific region.”

A foreign policy report from Australia went even further, stating China is looking to establish a new world order.

It said: “Powerful drivers are converging in a way that is reshaping the international order and challenging Australia’s interests.

“The United States has been the dominant power in our region throughout Australia’s post-second world history. China is challenging America’s position.”

Earlier this month, the tensions around China’s jockeying for a dominant position were laid bare at the Pacific leaders summit.

The United States pledged at least US$7million to island nations of Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Tonga for military spending – something many believed was in response to a growing Chinese military presence.

Zhang Baohui, a political science professor and director of the Centre for Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, said: “The region is close to key US strategic assets in the Pacific Ocean, like Hawaii and Midway Island… although there is no evidence that Beijing has a naval agenda in the region as of now.

“If China is to pursue a policy of establishing naval bases in the region, the US will have profound concerns.

“It will certainly increase US allies’ concerns about Washington potentially withdrawing its commitment to the region… they may instead try to build relations with China,” he said.