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May 26, 2022, 4:36 a.m. EDT

China wants 10 Pacific nations to endorse sweeping agreement

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By Associated Press

China wants 10 small Pacific nations to endorse a sweeping agreement covering everything from security to fisheries in what one leader warns is a “game-changing” bid by Beijing to wrest control of the region.

A draft of the agreement obtained by The Associated Press shows that China wants to train Pacific police officers, team up on “traditional and non-traditional security” and expand law enforcement cooperation.

China also wants to jointly develop a marine plan for fisheries — which would include the Pacific’s lucrative tuna catch — increase cooperation on running the region’s internet networks, and set up cultural Confucius Institutes and classrooms.

China also mentions the possibility of setting up a free trade area with the Pacific nations.

China’s move comes as Foreign Minister Wang Yi and a 20-person delegation begin a visit to the region this week.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price expressed concern Wednesday about China’s intentions, saying Beijing might use the proposed accords to take advantage of the islands and destabilize the region.

“We are concerned that these reported agreements may be negotiated in a rushed, nontransparent process,” Price told reporters. He warned that China “has a pattern of offering shadowy, vague deals with little transparency or regional consultation in areas related to fishing, related to resource management, development, development assistance and more recently even security practices.”

Price added that agreements that include sending Chinese security officials to the nations “could only seek to fuel regional international tensions and increase concerns over Beijing’s expansion of its internal security apparatus to the Pacific.”

Wang is visiting seven of the countries he hopes will endorse the “Common Development Vision” — the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.

Wang is also holding virtual meetings with the other three potential signatories — the Cook Islands, Niue and the Federated States of Micronesia.

He is hoping the countries will endorse the pre-written agreement as part of a joint communique after a May 30 meeting in Fiji he is holding with the foreign ministers from each of the 10 countries.

Micronesia’s president, David Panuelo, has told leaders of the other Pacific nations his nation won’t endorse the plan, warning it would needlessly heighten geopolitical tensions and threaten regional stability, according to a letter from Panuelo obtained by the AP.

Among other concerns, Panuelo said, the agreement opens the door for China to own and control the region’s fisheries and communications infrastructure. He said China could intercept emails and listen in on phone calls.

Panuelo called the Common Development Vision “the single most game-changing proposed agreement in the Pacific in any of our lifetimes” and said it “threatens to bring a new Cold War era at best, and a World War at worst.”

Panuelo declined to comment on the letter or the proposed agreement.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Wednesday he didn’t know about Panuelo’s letter. “But I don’t agree at all with the argument that cooperation between China and the South Pacific island countries will trigger a new Cold War,” he said.

Like some other countries in the Pacific, Micronesia is finding itself increasingly caught between the competing interests of Washington and Beijing.

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