Pacific to meet on draft China pact – Samoa PM | world news

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SYDNEY (Reuters) – Pacific island leaders agree that China’s plan for a broad trade and security pact must be discussed at a regional meeting before any decision is made, the leader of Samoa said on Thursday. .

Ahead of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s regional tour that began last week, officials in Beijing had circulated a draft agreement between China and 10 island nations covering police, security, fisheries, data and a free trade area.

The document, first reported by Reuters, has raised concerns among some Pacific nations over the security proposals and that tightly tying their economies to Beijing could spark friction with the United States and its allies.

A virtual meeting of 10 Pacific foreign ministers hosted by Wang in Fiji on Monday agreed to postpone consideration of the proposal.

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Samoa feared that the Pacific islands could not have discussed China’s proposal among themselves in the first place, Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa said on Thursday.

“Being called in to have this discussion and expecting there to be a decision or an overall outcome was something that we couldn’t accept,” she said at a joint press conference with Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, who visited Samoa. Thursday.

“I think the region has come to this conclusion, that we need to come together as a region to consider any proposal that comes to us from our development partners.”

The Pacific Islands Forum is the main regional group, which includes members who have diplomatic relations with Taiwan and not with Beijing, as well as with Australia and New Zealand.

Australia, New Zealand and the United States have all expressed concern over China’s growing assertiveness in seeking a security and police presence in the Pacific Islands, a region of strategic military importance. .

Wong said Australia had “considered regional security an issue for the Pacific family”.

Wong travels to Tonga on Friday, days after China’s Wang’s visit, to send a message that Australia’s new government is committed to doing more to tackle climate change, which the Pacific islands say is the greatest security challenge.

Towards the end of his tour of eight South Pacific countries, Wang signed a series of bilateral agreements on trade, fisheries, infrastructure and the supply of police equipment.

In an op-ed, the state-owned China Daily called Australia, the United States, New Zealand and Japan’s alarm over Wang’s visit to the Pacific Islands unwarranted. .

China has offered “pragmatic measures” tailored to the development needs of the Pacific islands, she said.

“Hectic, open and behind-the-scenes diplomatic maneuvering is taking place across the region by those unsettled by his trip,” he said.

Wang arrives in Papua New Guinea on Thursday, where tensions are running high ahead of national elections and an official told media that Beijing’s proposed regional security pact has caused discontent.

“There has been resentment over the Pacific agreement on security issues,” Papua New Guinea Foreign Secretary Elias Wohengu was quoted as saying by the Post Courier.

The timing of Wang’s visit was also criticized by former Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, who is campaigning for the top job.

No agreement should be signed with China before the election and it would be “inappropriate” for China to donate security equipment or offer security support for the election, the Post Courier newspaper said on Thursday quoting O’Neill. .

Australian broadcaster ABC previously reported that Beijing would offer 2,000 body armor kits to police during Wang’s visit.

Resource-rich Papua New Guinea has defense ties with close neighbor Australia, which has agreed to upgrade a naval base there, but is also looking to increase sales to China for its LNG project. .

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham)

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.

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