China’s Diplomacy in the Pacific

By Hon Johnny Koanapo Rasou, Member of Parliament for Tanna Constituency

A lot has been said about China’s diplomacy in the Pacific region. And in focusing on China’s presence, in particular its activities in the Pacific, there appears to be more criticisms about the manner in which China is conducting itself in the Pacific, than the positive role that China is playing in the development of many Pacific nations. Some weeks ago a Professor from an Indian University appears to be quite critical about China’s growing influence in the Pacific placing it in light of China’s commercial diplomatic activities including contracts and economic development activities. It is possible that this argument is relatively biased against China’s efforts to help the struggling Pacific Island Countries compared to India’s own diplomatic efforts in the region. India’s diplomatic efforts is big on Fiji and it is understandably clear. India’s foreign policy towards the Pacific Island nations has all the good intentions, but they are still trying to find a good formulae that will build a greater understanding between that incredible land and the Pacific nations. China’s help, however, is more widespread in the Pacific and it plays a complementary role in the region providing development options to the Pacific Island Countries who would otherwise be overly dependent on Australia and New Zealand, our two traditional partners. This piece of short article will not to draw any comparison between what china is doing against what other development partners are doing, because I think they all should be given space to achieve what is good for humanity in this part of the world. However, we need to analyse the rationale behind China’s diplomatic efforts in the region and place it against the backdrop of its own foreign policy objectives. Today China has become the second largest economy in the world. It has overtaken Japan. They know they are becoming economically powerful and are again trying to build their military to demonstrate their growing capability to contribute to international peace and maintain global order. China like many colonised countries, is still a developing country and is one that has gone through numerous aggression in its history, and its political experiences has to a larger extend influenced the type of Foreign policy they now have. And that is to pursue an independent Foreign Policy of peace and a national foreign policy that is defensive in nature. And such path of peace will lead to greater mutual and inclusive development around the world. China has never declared war on any developing country. Instead it is being called upon to play some mediatory role in our region amidst the growing tension between the North Koreans and the United States. But China holds dear five important principles of Peaceful Coexistence which I will not elaborate here. The above are critical elements of China’s Foreign Policy. However, it is very easy for people to pick on China’s activities in the Pacific region and create suspicion and fear that what China is doing in the Pacific is aimed at trapping the Pacific Islands into a relationship which will in the future become more of a liability to the Governments and states, rather than deliver the development outcomes they need. This is mostly a western framed argument. When analysing all these arguments, one needs to strike a balance between the need for China as a global player to pursue its interest and the recipient states to also pursue their own interests. China sees the economic opportunity in its relations to expand its commercial, political and security interests, and the Vanuatu Government also sees the economic opportunity in its relations with China to seek opportunities for grants and special concessional loans to build its roads, wharves and airports. China is helping Vanuatu in few major projects (Vanuatu National Convention Centre, Tanna-Malekula Road rehabilitation, Luganville wharf, Prime Minister’s Office Complex, MSG Secretariat building, Korman Stadium etc…to mention just a few) There is nothing wrong about this. It is a give and take in international relations. The fundamental rationale behind China’s diplomatic relations in the Pacific is based on an important rationale- Peace, Development, Cooperation and Mutual Benefit. Much of its guiding principles on Foreign Policy is based on its Confucius culture of universal peace and sharing (doing unto others what you would have them do to you). In poverty one should hold himself to a high standard, when prosperous one should contribute to the wellbeing of all. China is becoming more economically powerful and it is understandable that it could use its position as a leverage to offer options for development assistance to the developing nations. China’s activities is also based on its believe in the 21st Century as an era of globalisation and interdependence where strategic network is forged with all the regions of the world to achieve universal peace and global prosperity. And because of its growing significance as an international player, it will increasingly be called upon to contribute to finding the solutions to the rising global challenges, such as terrorism, climate change, provision of development finance etc… Under President Xi Jin Ping, China’s supreme Leader, China has embarked upon a “Belt and Road” initiative. This is a policy that is aimed at increasing cooperation and connectivity through trade and people to people bond. It is a policy of open cooperation that is aimed at facilitating financial and economic integration. This policy is largely aimed at portraying the Chinese values and principles in international cooperation. We find that China has now pledged $124 billion for this initiative. We in Vanuatu must also be able to navigate in this policy and see what legislations and policy we need to have in place to take advantage of the opportunities that China has to offer and where we need to avoid and give opportunities for our own people to prosper. China’s assistance is becoming more and more evident to our people who are now learning more about China’s capability to positively contribute to our development aspirations. And the manner in which the Chinese Government is delivering their aid to Vanuatu is different from the styles we are used to from New Zealand or Australia. But we must accept that all our development partners have different state structures. China is a communist state but it has created an enabling environment for its own citizens to flourish and therefore they themselves can go out and invest in other countries. China’s experiences have shown that a well-designed communist structure could be equally conducive to development and not only democracy as it used to be known. As a long time public servant in foreign affairs, managing our foreign relations, we had endeavoured to keep our relations with china amicable and sensible. We respect one china policy. We appreciate the growing responsibility that china must take up in a complex world. China was one of the very few countries that spoke in support of our nation to be decolonised and today we are an independent nation. This is a powerful support since China being a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, it made a lot of difference. If China is going to continue to grow, we the nations of the Pacific must celebrate that as an opportunity and not as a threat to our region. I urge the Chinese Government to renew their focus in our development and while building infrastructure is so critical to enabling access and enabling a more vibrant economy, they should also redirect their policy focus to the productive sector. I am encouraged that this could be a new path that the Chinese government will take in the near future. Once we begin to have the Chinese Government pursuing their foreign policy objective of mutual and inclusive agenda, it will make a huge difference in the lives of the 75-80% of our population who live in the rural area. And we hope we can continue to build on the relations we have with them.


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