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Analysis: Australia's plan to challenge China in the South Pacific

No subsequent evidence of these supposed negotiations was released. It was denied later by Vanuatu and rubbished by China. Nevertheless,…

No subsequent evidence of these supposed negotiations was released. It was denied later by Vanuatu and rubbished by China. Nevertheless, the reports generated at least as much interest and interest as China’s well-known island building program in the South China Sea and the militarization of these artificial islands.

In Australian strategic circles, the idea of ​​an assumed naval base about 2,500 kilometers from its shoreline was more than raising the eyebrows. It entered the country’s sense of vulnerability.

As confirmed in the White Paper for the Defense of 2016, the highest priority has been given to ensure that no potential hostile force can approach the Australian continent from Southeast Asia or South Pacific in its national defense strategy.

It has long been unofficial policy between allies that the United States and Japan secure North East Asia, the United States with Australian support secures Southeast Asia and Australia has the primary responsibility for securing South Pacific. Perhaps a navy base was worth a visit to Vanuatu PLA ships never in the cards.

But PLA strives to improve its scope and any permanent Chinese military presence in the South Pacific would allow its navy to “break out” in the Western Pacific. The scenario – or any other base offered by a poor and desperate Pacific Ocean – would fundamentally undermine the Australian strategic policy that has existed since the end of World War II.

This brings us back to Morrison’s multi-carrier infrastructure package, which includes financing an infrastructure bank for projects in the region. Over the last decade, Chinese funding for the Pacific countries was part of its strategy of using “checkbook diplomacy” to persuade small island countries to recognize the People’s Republic of China rather than Taiwan as the true “China”.

At least, according to the Australian view, is now about more than seeking official recognition at Taiwan’s expense. It’s also about winning these small countries over China’s way of thinking, whether it’s about basing rights, controlling critical infrastructure in these countries, or forcing states to shut up for controversial Chinese politicians as in the South China Sea. [19659003] Beijing achieves this by shaking small economies – which would otherwise be difficult to attract foreign investment – with cheap loans. As in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos and Pakistan, the tendency for these small and developing economies to accept much more debt they can repay enables Beijing to dictate the political and / or strategic terms of debt relief or restructuring aid.

Persistent suspicion that China is trying to use Hanabata and Gwadar Ports in Sri Lanka and Pakistan for military purposes in the future, only increases the discomfort levels for Australia in South Pacific China.

 China using

Of course, China does not take half action. Since 2011, it has offered at least $ 1.3 billion in donations and concession loans to the Pacific. This surpasses the $ 1.2 billion that New Zealand has given over the same period. China’s amount is next for only $ 6.6 billion from Australia.

Australia remains the main aid and development grant to South Pacific and its decades of working with these small economies mean that Canberra is well positioned to remain “partner of choice”.

Nevertheless, Australia has been largely reactive and played defense against China crime. For example, Canberra signed an agreement with the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea in July to pay for subordination between the three countries in a last minute bid to prevent the Chinese company Huawei from getting the contract. In September, Canberra joined the US in a last blatant attempt to counter Huawei’s winning approval to build the domestic Internet cable network in Papua New Guinea.

These and other efforts have been reactive to Chinese takeover.

The point is not to overthrow China in terms of short-term generosity or allow Pacific Island countries to play Australia against China to maximize both countries’ largest. Morrison intends to ensure that these small economies choose an Australian supportive source of funding that follows World Bank and other international trade standards, but where access is fast-tracked and not hampered by unnecessary regulations (typical of World Bank and Asia Development Bank Loans), which imply sustainable and will not jeopardize the solvency of these economies.

Australia knows it can not keep China out of South Pacific. However, it can warn these developing economies about the price of serious debt to China and offer them a clear alternative for critical infrastructure funding that would have domestic and / or regional security implications.

Most of all recent Australian politics are delayed recognition it must compete in a region that has been benign and free of potentially hostile external influence for over seven decades.

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