Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi and leaders in 10 Pacific Island nations failed to reach consensus at talks on a sweeping security and trade deal amid concerns the proposal could “threaten regional stability”, according to media reports Tuesday (31 May). Wang, who was in Fiji, sought to reassure the Pacific nations about China’s aims in the region, saying Beijing has long championed developing nations in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. “Don’t be too anxious and don’t be too nervous,” he said. “Because the common development and prosperity of China and all the other developing countries would only mean great harmony, greater justice and greater progress of the whole world,” he said.

The diplomat’s visit to Fiji is part of a tour aimed at increasing China’s involvement in the security, economy and politics of the South Pacific, much to the consternation of countries like Australia and the United States. A draft communique and five-year action plan that China sent to the invited nations ahead of the meeting showed it was seeking to train local police, become involved in cybersecurity, expand political ties, conduct sensitive marine mapping and gain greater access to natural resources on land and in the water.

At a news conference, Wang and Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama spoke for about 30 minutes and then abruptly left the stage as reporters tried to shout out questions, according to media reports. That left many details of what transpired at the meeting undisclosed. But it was clear the nations had not endorsed China’s plan. “As always, we put consensus first among our countries throughout any discussion on new regional agreements,” Bainimarama said. “Geopolitical point-scoring means less than little to anyone whose community is slipping beneath the rising seas, whose job is being lost to the pandemic, or whose family is impacted by the rapid rise in the price of commodities.”

The proposed China-Pacific Island Countries Common Development Vision also proposes a free trade area, and support for action on climate change and health. But the draft communique prompted opposition from at least one of the invited nations, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), according to a letter leaked last week. David Panuelo, president of FSM, called it “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”.

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