Beijing advances in Pacific
Island nations of the South-West Pacific, famous for their beautiful beaches, waters and friendly peoples, are falling prey to "checkbook diplomacy" of rivals Taipei and Beijing.
Traditionally an Australian and American sphere of influence, these small and poor nations form an important block in a headcount at international forums such as the United Nations.
Taipei has diplomatic relations with six them: Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. Beijing has a strong presence, being officially recognized by seven: Fiji, Samoa, Papua New Guinea, the Cook Islands, Vanuatu, Micronesia and Tonga. But over the years, some of them, such as Nauru, Kiribati, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea, have switched back and forth between the two, seeking to gain the best deal.
Last week, Beijing secured an Australian agreement to export uranium to China.
The agreement underscores Canberra's readiness to discard customary concerns of the West about communist China. Unlike its ally the U.S., Australia sees China as a new economic partner rather than a new threat.
Australia, which has 40 per cent of the world's uranium reserves, has until now only exported the material to democratic and more transparent countries, including Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, and strictly for the generation of electricity. The accord, concluded during a four-day visit to Canberra by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, paves the way for Chinese investments in the industry.
To U.S. dismay, Canberra has also been vague and non-committal about possible Australian positions in the event of a conflict between China and Taiwan and U.S. intervention. And more recently, in March, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer assured China that talks between him and his U.S. and Japanese counterparts, Condoleezza Rice and Taro Aso, at the first Trilateral Strategic Dialogue held before Wen's arrival, were not aimed at containing China.
Wen then went on to New Zealand for talks with Prime Minister Helen Clark to advance their Foreign Trade Agreement negotiations. After that Wen made a 24-hour stopover in Fiji, signed aid agreements with Fiji and also attended the China-Pacific Island Countries Development Cooperation Conference. (Although invited, the six allies of Taiwan didn't show.) Over 3,000 Chinese state-owned and private enterprises are already registered in the Pacific and have made investments of about US$580 million.
Wen offered a multi-million-dollar aid package to deepen China's influence in that region and contain Taiwan's diplomatic clout. Debt-ridden countries such as Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu received gifts, which included a sports stadium and a plane as well as funding for campaigns to fight diseases like malaria and bird flu.
Canberra has warned against a bidding war between China and Taiwan for diplomatic recognition, as many of the island states are susceptible to financial influence and corruption. It has urged both Taipei and Beijing to be more transparent and accountable in their aid programs for the region.
Does Taipei have to be like Beijing and play such lowly games?
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