China’s rising power and influence in the Pacific explained in 30 seconds | Pacific islands

Located between the US, China and Australia, the Pacific island countries hold strategic importance for security and defence. The US has long maintained influence and a military presence in the Pacific region. Over the last decade, China has focused on strengthening its ties in Pacific through increased aid, development, diplomacy and security cooperation.

In 2022, Solomon Islands signed a security pact with China, sparking international concern over the possibility of Beijing building its first military base in the region. At the same time, the US ramped up its Pacific diplomacy, hosting a landmark Pacific leaders summit and whirlwind tours by senior officials, including vice-president Kamala Harris, and pledged more aid. In February the US reopened an embassy in Solomons Islands after a 30 year absence. Australia, which had been accused of neglecting its own relationship with Pacific countries, has also conducted a diplomatic push amid fears of Chinese influence growing in the region.

Australia has also overtaken China as the “leading source of bilateral loans to the Pacific,” according to 2022 data from the Lowy Institute. The amount of development finance China has provided to the region has been falling since 2016, according to the data, which the institute said “does not contradict recent perceptions that China has sought to ‘increase its engagement’ with Pacific Island countries.” Instead, China appears to be focusing on strengthening security cooperation, as with the Solomon Islands deal, and increasing commercial activities.

Re-engagement by the US has continued, with encouragement from Pacific leaders. In early 2023, the presidents of Kiribati, Palau, Nauru, the Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia said they expect US president Joe Biden would visit the Pacific in the “near future”, though the trip has not been confirmed.

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