Australia, New Zealand, Japan and USA now allies against China in South China Sea

Australia and New Zealand have been stepping up coordination with Japan and the United States over Pacific island states in the face of growing Chinese influence in a region that has traditionally been considered within the Oceanian powers’ sphere of influence.

 

In recent years, Beijing has increasingly invested in the South Pacific with loans for infrastructure projects under President Xi Jinping’s massive “Belt and Road” initiative, a move Canberra and Wellington perceive as a direct challenge to their largely unrivaled clout.

Citing Sri Lanka — which has effectively ceded a new port to China to service an unsustainable level of debt from the country — as an example, analysts  have expressed concern that Beijing might be using loans leverage to gain strategic concessions in the resource-rich, strategically important region.

 

They fear Chinese investments in ports and roads in the South Pacific could eventually turn into military bases, just like those Beijing has built in disputed areas of the South China Sea despite Xi saying in 2015 that his country had “no intention to militarize” the strategic waterway.

 

China significantly boosted its aid to Pacific island states to the amount of $1.78 billion from 2006 to 2016. The tally fell far short of the $7.7 billion from Australia, but roughly matched the $1.89 billion from the U.S., and eclipsed the $1.29 billion from New Zealand and $1.18 billion from Japan, according to the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank.

 

In a pushback against Beijing’s rising regional influence, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence agreed Sunday with Papua New Guinea on a project to increase electricity access in the South Pacific nation to 70 percent of its population by 2030 from the current 13 percent.

 

Arden said the power project would cost approximately $1.7 billion, and an Australian government spokeswoman said it would contribute 25 million Australian dollars ($18.3 million) in the first year of the initiative.

 

Reference: Australia and New Zealand team up with Japan and U.S. to curb China in South Pacific

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