A 2007 report to the US Congress noted the growing influence of China in the islands, against the backdrop of Washington’s policy of stopping adversaries gaining a strategic advantage in the region.
China has focused on so-called soft political and economic power in this region but a Singapore University political scientist, Paul Buchanan, argues that the introduction of hard, or military, power is not beyond Beijing. In the Samoa Observer, recently, Buchanan warned the US must not ignore China’s strategic challenge to sea lanes of communication, resources and diplomatic leverage because Australia and New Zealand could not counter the Chinese push.
China’s modernisation of deep-water ports and airports in places such as Fiji – as well as development of military-to-military ties, not least with Fiji – coincides with Australia largely suspending its links. As China builds maritime and air capabilities, it is keen on intelligence gathering in the region – including eavesdropping on the US, Australia and New Zealand.
Although despite all of this it seems there is still considerable anti-Chinese racism among the people in the islands:
More than 3000 Chinese enterprises are registered in Pacific island nations – often to the chagrin of the locals with whom they compete. They open trade stores and take-away food outlets, and dump cheap Chinese imports on suffocating local manufacturing.
In the Solomon Islands, where in 2006 a mob burnt down Honiara’s once quaint weatherboard Chinatown, anti-Chinese feeling was fanned even by new Chinese arrivals collecting empty soft-drink bottles.
In Fiji ethnic Indian and indigenous prostitutes face competition from Chinese women brought in for Asian fishing crews. And there have even been grisly murders among Chinese settlers over control of a lucrative market in shark fins.
Much of the large-scale Chinese migration to the region in recent years has been from the seaside province of Fujian. Estimates across the 14 independent Pacific island states put the total Chinese population as high as 200,000. In the 10 years to 2005, island trade with China increased tenfold, by one calculation. China arguably outranks Japan and Taiwan in terms of involvement and influence across the islands.
In Nuku’alofa, in 2006, eight people died in rioting and many Chinese businesses were destroyed. Up to 70 per cent of the Tongan capital’s trade stores were owned by newly arrived Chinese.
So, maybe the Islanders will do the US/NZ/Aus a favour and scare away the Chinese using the same ignorance they’ve been using with Indians in Fiji for all of these years.
And maybe, just maybe, it is time for Aus/NZ to take a different tack with Fiji that doesn’t send them running into the arms of Beijing…