For much of last year, China’s diplomatic advancement in the Pacific region appeared unstoppable. It established the terms for the Chinese military to operate there by signing a security agreement with the Solomon Islands in April 2022. On an unusual eight-country Pacific tour later that spring, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, negotiated a number of other deals.
He didn’t quite manage to secure a more comprehensive regional security deal, but he made it plain that China would continue to fight for it. Back then, he advised the leaders of the Pacific, “Don’t be too anxious.”
Chinese officials’ nerves are likely to be jangling more right now. They experienced one of their worst blows in the area on January 25 when Sitiveni Rabuka, the prime minister of Fiji, abruptly declared he would end a security arrangement with China that had been in place since 2011.
It permitted Chinese police officers to work in Fiji for up to six months and Fijian police officers to receive training there. Mr. Rabuka told the Fiji Times that they did not need to continue. Our systems are unique.
Even worse for China, Mr. Rabuka claimed that due to similarities in their political systems to that of the Pacific island nation of Fiji, police personnel from Australia and New Zealand might continue to serve there.
Not merely China’s attempts to gain a strategic presence in a region long militarily dominated by the United States and its allies were hurt by his choice.
Additionally, it disproved China’s claims that its political system is a preferable alternative to Western democracy. Further, it coincides with a backlash against it from China’s South China Sea maritime neighbors.
As much as it looks to be about great-power competition, Mr. Rabuka’s action appears to be about strengthening his own authority at home. Frank Bainimarama, his predecessor, struck the agreement with China in 2011 to make up for his strained relations with the United States and its regional allies, Australia and New Zealand.
Following Mr. Bainimarama’s takeover of power in a coup in 2006, all three imposed sanctions on Fiji. After he won the democratic elections in 2014, they lifted them, but he persisted in pursuing commercial and security relations with China.
In a December election, Mr. Bainimarama was defeated. When the new government demanded that senior officials quit, he originally admitted defeat but later changed his mind.
The police commander requested the military after the election because of the potential for ethnic conflict. That sparked worries about a new coup.
Since gaining its independence from Britain in 1970, Fiji has experienced four, including two by Mr. Rabuka. On the same day that the China agreement was canceled, the police chief, who was close to Mr. Bainimarama, was suspended. The political instability of Fiji continues to raise concerns.
The cancellation of China’s agreement is nonetheless a geopolitical victory for the United States and its allies. In an effort to counteract American influence and gain a military footing in the Pacific, China has recently moved to improve its connections there.
China has undoubtedly contacted Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands about a base, the Pentagon claims, despite its denials. China has also lately given Pacific nations more military equipment, providing Fiji with a naval ship in 2018 and 47 military vehicles in 2022.
Since 2021, there has been a Chinese police liaison officer stationed in Fiji. In response to Mr. Rabuka’s decision, the Chinese embassy in Fiji stated that no outside force will obstruct their military and police cooperation.
America and its allies have increased their political and economic participation in the region since China’s Solomons pact. In September, Mr. Bainimarama was one of 12 Pacific leaders that President Joe Biden received at the White House.
They decided to cooperate in order to create an area where “democracy will be able to flourish.” Additionally, America promised to give the area another $810 million in relief.
Penny Wong, the foreign minister of Australia, has also been busy, traveling to various Pacific countries, including Fiji. Australia and Fiji signed agreements in October to increase police cooperation and station military personnel on each other’s soil.
In the meantime, the Chinese government is moving on with its deal with the Solomon Islands, which sent 32 police officers to China for training in October. In November, China also conducted a virtual meeting with police representatives from six Pacific nations. Without a doubt, it will give more. However, the Pacific expedition from the previous year is currently beginning to appear excessive.