Yu Chang Sen
National Center of Oceania Studies, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China
Paper presented to the conference on
CHINA AND THE PACIFIC: THE VIEW FROM OCEANIA
NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SAMOA, APIA, SAMOA, 25-27 February 2015
Traditionally, the Pacific islands only play a marginal role in Chinese geostrategic thinking simply because they are small states far afield geographically. Yet, during the context of China’s rise and the changing architecture of international politics in the Asia-Pacific, the geostrategic importance of Pacific islands, in line with the significant economic implication
often discussed, has become increasingly pronounced accordingly. First, given that the Pacific islands spreading across the central and southern parts of the Pacific Ocean, which are located in the sea route between China and South America, Antarctica, as well as Australia and New Zealand, China’s strategic cooperation with Pacific island countries therefore has become a major concern in order to safeguard maritime security, especially in the context of rising trade and shipment across the aforementioned sea lanes. Second, the Pacific islands serve as a so-called “second island chain” by the US seeking to restrain the global freedom of maneuver by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). Therefore, the close strategic cooperation with islands states is presumed to help undermining the US blockade along with the further development of Chinese blue navy project. Third, due to the uncertainty of mutual relationship across the Taiwan Strain, the diplomatic tug of war between Taiwan and mainland China for winning the hearts and minds of the island countries may happen again. China, therefore, has remained to pay attention to the Pacific island countries. Last, the power competition between China and US in the Pacific islands under the backdrop of China’s rise and America’s “pivot to Asia” is unavoidable. However, it is not so much a hard as a soft balancing in the South Pacific. Above all, from the perspective of China, in addition to the economic importance, the geostrategic significance of the Pacific islands has loomed large, and it has been suggested that a long-term strategy in this regard should be taken into serious consideration.