The 51st Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) will begin today in Suva, Fiji.
The Pacific Islands hold a strategic location that increased their value in the latest geopolitical competition between the United States and China. Between 2006 and 2017 China provided close to $1.5 billion in foreign aid to the Pacific Islands region through a mixture of grants and loans; the US gave $1.5 Billion in economic support to the Republic of Marshal Islands alone during the same period. China’s ambitious investment in the region for two decades signal its interest in the region for security reasons.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited eight pacific nations in a tour intending to strengthen economic and security ties with Pacific Islands thru economic and security proposals. China signed an agreement with Tonga on police equipment provisions, fisheries cooperation and disaster management. The leaked draft Solomon Islands agreement showed broad commitments that leave open the possibility of China building a naval base on the islands.
In the short-term, expect China to increase its footprint in the region by extending aid and loan packages curated to the need of Pacific Island nations; including assistance with agriculture, fishery and emergency management, given the negative impacts of climate change on the islands. In the long-term, The establishment of a Chinese military base in the Pacific could force significant change in the regional security environment–particularly vis-à-vis Australia, historically a strong ally and supporter of Pacific Islands nations since World War II.
Marcos is an Analyst who specializes in International Diplomacy and Security. He focuses on significant developments within the MENA region.