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Islands influence: China increases its presence and influence in the southwest Pacific

Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (right) and Samoa Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata'afa attend an agreement signing ceremony between the two countries in Apia, Samoa on 28 May 2022. (Vaitogi Asuisui Matafeo/Samoa Observer/AFP via Getty Images)

In the first half of 2022 China intensified its diplomatic efforts to increase its influence in the southwest Pacific. On 26 May, just over a month after signing a security co-operation agreement with the Solomon Islands that could grant the People's Liberation Army (PLA) military and logistics access to the country, China's Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi started an unprecedented ten-day diplomatic tour in the region.

The delegation visited eight states, including the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, and Timor-Leste, and held three additional virtual meetings with the leadership of Cook Islands, Niue, and the Federated States of Micronesia. Additionally, on 30 May, China held the second Foreign Ministers' Meeting with Pacific Island Countries.

The possibility of a Chinese military base in the southwest Pacific and Beijing's efforts to influence the region's security architecture has alarmed China's regional adversaries. Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States have voiced their concerns and have tried to convince Pacific nations to push back against China's growing commercial, political, and security influence in a region that is becoming increasingly important for global actors. In this context, understanding Beijing's approach, its priorities, objectives, and expectations is crucial to avoid escalation and successfully manage the challenges presented by a rising China.

China's objectives

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