China continues its march into the Pacific with a China-Pacific Island Countries Economic Development and Cooperation Forum in Samoa this week. Ahead of the forum, Beijing has signed seven new agreements with Samoa covering education, trade, e-commerce, investment, infrastructure and agriculture.
China’s Vice-Premier Hu Chunhua heads his delegation in Apia and the meeting comes just one month after Solomon Islands and Kiribati formalised diplomatic relations with Beijing.
At an export summit ahead of Hu’s arrival, Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele announced moves to make Samoa a regional hub for fish and agricultural exports. One provides for inspection, quarantine and sanitation requirements for wild-caught fish exports, an area of particular interest for Samoa which hopes to increase the value of its exports to $160m a year, and the Government says it is on track to export about $50m worth this year.
Beijing used the China-Pacific Island Countries Economic Development and Cooperation Forum to promote its Belt and Road Initiative, a massive infrastructure-building project offering cheap loans to developing nations.
Representatives from eight other Pacific Island nations, including Solomon Islands and Kiribati, which recently exchanged recognition, attended the forum. Those which recognise Taiwan were not represented.
Speaking at a dinner ahead of the forum, Tuilaepa said the summit would pursue better trade cooperation between China and Pacific Island nations, including by bringing Chinese businesses to the region.
“It is an important space for China and the Pacific to promote opportunities that would strategically support the sustainable development and prosperity of our peoples and nations,” he said.
Representatives from about 200 companies including the Chinese online shopping giant Alibaba, are reported to be in Apia for the forum and related events.
Dame Meg Taylor, secretary-general of the Pacific Islands Forum, says countries in the region were aware of the “intensifying geopolitical engagement” that was taking place, but the focus must be on delivering results. Climate change mitigation and adaptation were two core areas where China could boost its engagement with the Pacific, she said.
Solomon Islands and Kiribati are expected to be represented at the summit, after they ditched their diplomatic ties with Taiwan to establish relations with Beijing — a move China hailed as a breakthrough.
Australia and New Zealand were not represented at the forum, but Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs Fletcher Tabuteau will be in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu this week to continue to advance important bilateral relationships in the region consistent with the Pacific Reset.
Tabuteau is engaging in a range of bilateral meetings and visiting NZ development projects during his visit. He will officially open NZ’s new High Commission in Honiara.