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By Joseph Veramu and Michael H. Yang
Looking back at the very important time last year on the sidelines of the APEC meeting, it is worth noting that many constructive and forward-looking initiatives began under the Belt and Road (BRI) framework in 2019.
Pacific island countries are beginning to realise that the BRI is an excellent opportunity to help them develop. While stabilising their domestic situations, South Pacific island countries are thinking about how to use the BRI to catch the last bus of rapid development to meet the challenges of a shrinking world economy.
Pacific nations that have formally signed MOUs on the BRI include Fiji, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa, Niue and the Cook Islands.
Vanuatu Prime Minister Charlot Salwai and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang signed a deal for a feasibility study on a port and road. China called for better alignment between the BRI and Vanuatu's development strategies.
Vanuatu was one of the first Pacific nations to show its understanding and support of China's position on the South China Sea issue. And its ties with China have been growing.
It noted that China has built government buildings, stadiums, convention centres, roads and extensions to Port Vila's runway to allow for larger planes. Prime Minister Salwai said Vanuatu appreciates China's sincere help to his country according to its actual needs.
In PNG, James Marape has replaced Peter O'Neill as the new Prime Minister. Radio NZ reported that Marape's victory is likely to spell continuity in many fields, but it could bring changes to energy policy and relations with neighbouring Australia. Marape had protested against the Papua LNG project agreements made by U.S oil major ExxonMobil, Australia's Oil Search and the France-based Total. He had raised concerns at the lack of local "participation in our gas, oil sector" and mining industry.
Marape had also been critical of "corrupt contracts" with Australia to settle asylum seekers on tropical island camps and demanded an investigation. Marape is a familiar and friendly face to Chinese diplomats. He said, "We will engage with the Chinese government and its people [and] so long as it is fair and friendly to us, we're happy with that." China has offered to help developing nations and is not seeking a sphere of influence in Pacific Ocean island states.
China has made it clear that there was no geopolitical agenda behind the BRI. Relevant parties should objectively and positively view China's relations with Pacific island nations, and earnestly abandon outdated concepts of Cold War thinking and zero-sum games while doing more to benefit the island nations' development and improve livelihoods, regional peace and stability.
One excellent example of China's support for the Pacific region through the BRI framework is the China Pacific Tourism Year 2019 (CPTY) that was recently launched in Samoa. South Pacific Tourism CEO Chris Cocker said member countries are extremely grateful to China for the great opportunity and are excited for 2019.
"CPTY 2019 will celebrate and mark the opening of the door of cooperation between China and the Pacific in the tourism sector, connect people in the tourism industry in China and the region, as well as increase awareness and understanding of Pacific island destinations in the Chinese market and vice versa," Cocker said.
As South Pacific nations progress through 2019, they see China as an important partner in realising their visions for development, improving people's livelihood and addressing global challenges. South Pacific leaders agree that they deeply value their close relations with China and its long-term support with no political strings attached. They unanimously adhere to the one-China principle.
The leaders welcome the lifting of bilateral relations based on mutual respect and common development. They have indicated that they are ready to actively participate in the joint construction of the BRI and strengthen cooperation with China in such areas as trade, investment, fisheries, tourism and infrastructure construction to boost economic and social development.
Joseph Veramu is consultant to Fiji Prime Minister's Office and dean of South Pacific Island Countries Institute of Asian Studies (SPICIAS). Michael H. Yang is the CEO of Chinese Media (Fiji) Limited and permanent secretary of SPICIAS.
Pacific Islands News Association
Who & What is PINA?
International News Safety Institute (INSI)
Media Helping Media