China and Pacific Island Countries: True Friends for Common Development
2022-06-09 08:08

The 10-day trip to the South Pacific by Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi has attracted much attention in this part of the world and beyond, and with good reason. It is the first time that a Chinese foreign minister made a “full coverage” of all the 10 Pacific Island Countries (PICs) that have diplomatic ties with China. He visited the Solomon Islands, Samoa, Kiribati, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea, and held virtual meetings with leaders of Federated States of Micronesia, Cook Islands and Niue. During the trip in Fiji, the second China-Pacific Island Countries Foreign Ministers’ Meeting was convened.

Such a scale of engagement is not something that happens on a daily basis, not least given the travel restrictions due to COVID-19. It speaks volumes about the commitment of China, the world’s largest developing country, to the mutually beneficial cooperation with PICs, an integral part of South-South cooperation among all members of the developing world.

Mutual respect and true equality

China and PICs started official diplomatic engagement back in the 1970s. To the South Pacific region, China is not a newcomer, but rather an old friend with long-time bonds. The strong ties are not forged out of thin air. They take shape in a natural course, out of mutual respect and true equality.

Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the South Pacific region in 2014 and traveled to PNG for APEC and a state visit in 2018. During both visits, President Xi held meetings collectively with leaders of PICs having diplomatic ties with China. And throughout the years, President Xi has maintained close communication with his counterparts in the region, either through face-to-face meetings, correspondence or virtual means.

Such interactions at the top level has cemented the solid political foundation for the overall relationship between China and PICs, a comprehensive strategic partnership featuring mutual respect and common development.

China always maintains that all countries, regardless of their size, strength and wealth, are equals. It respects the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of PICs, and support them in independently choosing the development paths that best suit their national conditions. China does not dictate, impose or interfere. Such a principled stance is well-received by PICs, who take the same approach, adhering to the one-China policy and understanding and supporting China on matters of core interests and major concerns.

As true friends, China and PICs have a tradition of looking out for each other. And such gestures of goodwill are underpinned by the principle of mutual respect. For decades, what China has been doing is always based on the need, proposal and consent of regional countries. Such a principled approach cannot be better captured in the cooperation project of a Chinese-built stadium for the Solomon Islands. For years, athletes of the island state had longed for a chance to compete and excel in a sport venue on their own homeland. Now with the support of China, they are about to be able to do just that. As host of the 2023 Pacific Games, the Solomon Islands will be equipped with a state-of-the-art sports complex, consisting of a main stadium, an aquatic center, a tennis center, a communal food and beverage center, a multi-function hall, a hockey field and a training field, all built with China’s top-notch know-how in infrastructure construction. 

China has come to this region out of genuine friendship for cooperation based on respect and equality. The country has made it clear that unlike some powers, it has no interest for building a naval base or increasing military presence in the region. China has publicly voiced its unequivocal support for a South Pacific free of nuclear weapons. The contrast cannot be sharper, when some powers are conducting nuclear submarine cooperation and putting together exclusive blocs driven by a Cold War mentality, posing a real risk of proliferation and even conflict for the Asia-Pacific region. What China has been advocating consistently is mutual respect and true equality, nothing less.

Mutual benefit and win-win cooperation

Over the past half a century, cooperation between China and PICs having diplomatic relations with China has flourished, covering wide-ranging areas. Two-way trade grew from USD 153 million to 5.3 billion in the 30 years between 1992 and 2021, with an average annual increase of 13% and expanding by over 30 times. By 2021, China’s direct investment in PICs had reached USD 2.72 billion.

Over the decades, China has provided support and assistance for the development of PICs to the best of its capability. It has carried out a host of economic and technical cooperation projects with PICs, building roads, bridges, ports, hospitals, schools and stadiums, which have given a strong boost to economic growth and significantly improved the lives of local people. Across the blue ocean of South Pacific, signature infrastructure projects that symbolize China-PICs friendship are easy to find: the Independence Boulevard in PNG, the Navua Hospital in Fiji, the National Convention Center in Vanuatu, the Apia Park Stadium in Samoa. And the list goes on.

After the start of COVID-19, in a display of strong solidarity, China and PICs swiftly extended a helping hand to one another. At the height of the pandemic, PICs did not hesitate to help China tide over the challenging moment. In the same spirit, China has actively provided vaccines and medical supplies to PICs, and helped the countries build quarantine cubicles and other facilities. To date, 590,000 doses of vaccines and over 100 tons of supplies have been delivered to PICs, and a dozen virtual health expert meetings held to share preparedness and response experience. China will contribute another USD 2 million to the China-Pacific Island Countries Anti-COVID-19 Cooperation Fund, to help the people of the South Pacific secure a complete victory against the virus.

The position paper released by China immediately after the foreign ministers’ meeting with PICs is another case in point demonstrating China’s sincerity to contribute more to the development of PICs and the well-being of the people. It outlines 24 policy measures across multiple areas of cooperation, which include a continued commitment to promoting cooperation under the six new platforms in climate response, poverty reduction and disaster relief, to name but a few.

The paper also highlights the shared commitment between the two sides to forming stronger synergy between the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and regional cooperation initiatives such as the Pacific Quality Infrastructure Initiative, and to jointly advancing the Global Development Initiative (GDI) put forward by Chinese President Xi Jinping at last year’s UN General Assembly. These initiatives are warmly welcomed by PICs as they are solid steps, not just rhetoric, towards realizing the goals in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

What China proposes this time, once materialized, will again translate into action the principle of mutual benefit and win-win outcomes, for the people.

The Chinese don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk. When it comes to development commitments, China has a strong track record of delivering.

Mutual trust and shared goals

China and PICs, as developing countries, have common stakes in a more peaceful and stable Asia-Pacific, a more equitable and just international environment, and a more sustainable and resilient development prospect. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a responsible major country, China always remains a force for peace, development, equity, justice, democracy and freedom, the common values of humanity.

China is a firm believer in multilateralism, a principle that champions due representation and legitimate interests of developing countries, especially small and medium-sized ones. It abides by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, upholds the UN-centered international system and the international order based on international law, and strives for a new type of international relations featuring mutual respect, equity, justice and win-win cooperation.

China and PICs share a firm commitment to addressing global challenges together, particularly climate change, a major concern and indeed an existential threat to PICs. China is a strong advocate for the principles of equity, common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.

As the world’s largest developing country, China is leading by example in climate actions. It has officially announced its plan to peak carbon emission before 2030 and realize carbon neutrality before 2060. That means it will only take China 30 years from carbon peaking to neutrality, a time span much shorter than that of any developed country.

China is committed to advancing South-South cooperation on climate, particularly with PICs. Since 2019, China has held three South-South cooperation training sessions for PICs on climate response and green, low-carbon development. In April 2022, the China-Pacific Island Countries Climate Change Cooperation Center was officially launched in Shandong Province of China. China takes seriously PICs’ special conditions and concerns on climate change, and delivers on its promises to helping them strengthen climate response capacity.

In a world full of challenges on scales unseen before, commitment to multilateralism and solidarity is never so urgently needed. It is thus unfortunate that a few countries choose to go down the path of unilateralism that puts one’s own interests over others’. They attempt to form antagonizing blocs, draw ideology-based lines, and sow division globally. Recently, they have even gone so far as to politicize and weaponize trade by forming an economic framework that claims to be free and open but in effect promotes only the type of trade that suits certain country’s own values. In an era of economic globalization, such counterproductive approaches will not be popular with countries who genuinely embrace multilateralism and the common progress of humanity. It’s better to do the right thing on the right side of history.

True friends for common development

China and PICs are all members of the family of the developing world and the family of the Asia-Pacific. Family members, by definition, are true friends who stand with each other shoulder-to-shoulder with sincerity and mutual respect, sincere partners who pursue common development and mutually beneficial cooperation hand-in-hand, and real brothers who speak up arm-in-arm for global equity and justice.

Our world is experiencing global changes and a pandemic both unseen in a century. This period of turbulence and transformation is posing serious challenges to global peace and development. With the future of all countries linked closely like never before, therein lies opportunities for China and PICs to, more than ever, strengthen unity, deepen cooperation, and embrace a brighter future, contributing to building a community with a shared future for mankind.