NUKUʻALOFA, Tonga (CU)_China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi is currently on a tour in the Pacific, a visit which is aimed at signaling Beijing’s broader ambitions in the region. However, the tour does not appear to be going according to plan, as Pacific Island nations failed to reach consensus over a regional trade and security pact proposed by the Communist superpower.
Minister Wang is currently in Tonga, where several agreements were signed between the parties, including one for police equipment and fisheries cooperation. Following his meeting with Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni, the Chinese Foreign Minister also visited King Tupou VI at the Royal Palace, located in the archipelago’s capital, Nukuʻalofa. “Both meetings focused on mutual respect and the common interest of the people of China and Tonga,” Tonga’s government said in a statement.
It added that the agreements signed between the two parties included one for China to provide a police laboratory and customs inspection equipment and another between disaster management agencies of the two countries. The government of Tonga also signed a memorandum with China on the “blue economy’, aimed at assisting the Pacific nation’s long-term development.
According to the statement, PM Sovaleni expressed his gratitude to the relief assistance offered by Beijing following the volcanic eruption and tsunami earlier this year. In the aftermath of the eruption, China sent aid and equipment in a highly publicised relief effort, while Australia and New Zealand coordinated in a relief operation involving naval vessels and defence flights.
In a major event in Wang’s Pacific tour, the Minister hosted a virtual meeting in Fiji, with the participation of officials from 10 Pacific Island nations. A draft communique and a five-year action plan which were due to be proposed at the meeting were leaked beforehand, prompting criticism over its potential to bind these countries closely to China while raising geopolitical tensions in the Pacific, particularly with the United States.
Meanwhile, island nations deferred consideration of the agreement, which focused on a range of matters, from security to policing, fisheries and a free trade zone, all of which were proposed by China. Samoa was among the countries which called for a delay in signing the agreement, with Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mataafa saying such major decisions affecting the region should go through the Pacific Islands Forum group. “We have not made a decision as we did not have enough time to look at it,” PM Fiame said in a speech that was also released by her office on social media.