China in the South Pacific – Latest News – The Nation
The American compulsion to contain and manage China’s phenomenal rise grows tougher, darker, and more urgent every day. US efforts to circumscribe its sphere of influence and concomitant strategic reach around the world appear to be floundering. China, on the other hand, taking advantage of its raging BRI, has effectively moved across Eurasia into Western Europe, is well established in the SCAR (BRI-CPEC) and is making substantial entries into the GMER and Africa.
Now it appears to be overtaking American efforts to encircle and confine it to the Indo-Pacific. In a daring scheme, of serious geopolitical, geoeconomic and geostrategic significance, it moved vehemently across the South Pacific. He freed himself from the psychological chains that the policies of the United States and its allies (US Island Chain Strategy, QUAD, AUKUS) ostensibly wanted to impose on him. It is rapidly emerging as a major player, an alternative center of power in the South Pacific as well.
This multi-pronged Chinese attack globally is of serious concern to the United States as it scrambles to retain its increasingly contested global hegemony. The Ukrainian crisis could help it deal with the BRI in Europe/Eurasia, albeit temporarily. It has brought India into its ranks and their national interests generally converge in SCAR, largely against China and specifically against the BRI-CPEC which runs through Pakistan. In the Indo-Pacific, he created the QUAD, (Australia, India, Japan), through which he intends to confine China within manageable limits.
To be truly effective, the QUAD will inevitably have to acquire a significant military avatar and a tangible political will to employ it. AUKUS, Five Eyes and NATO (?) may also need to focus more intensely on the South Pacific. It is therefore here that the United States and its allies are now intervening decisively not only to stop this Chinese behemoth, but also to deny it any major takeover in this very critical region. Some reports indicate that South Korea and Japan could be part of QUAD and AUKUS respectively.
Deep geopolitical maneuvering to dominate, control and manage the South Pacific is now the new norm there.
The South Pacific, aka Oceania, includes at least ten thousand islands. The main sub-regions are Australasia (Australia, New Zealand), Melanesia (Vanuatu, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea), Micronesia (Micronesia, Palau, Kiribati, Nauru, Marshall Islands, Guam , Northern Mariana Islands, Wake Islands), Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaii, Samoa, Tonga, French Polynesia) et al.
What matters most is not the size of these islands or their populations, but the massive EEZs they control – a whopping 7.7 million square kilometers of vast, open, and rich ocean space! Moreover, their crucial geostrategic locations make them indispensable to any great power that claims to dominate the region, as was amply demonstrated during World War II.
China’s entry into the South Pacific gives it immense geopolitical advantages. He made serious overtures to some of the major island states/sub-regions of the South Pacific and engaged them in diplomatic, economic, climate change, trade, tourism, agriculture, security, investment and other related fields.
Climate change is a huge concern for these island states, as rising sea levels threaten their very existence. FM Wang Yi is on a whirlwind tour of the South Pacific to develop mutually beneficial relationships with them. The Chinese move provides these island states with options other than those traditionally provided by US-led Australia, New Zealand and Japan. Moreover, China is successfully encouraging them to move to a one-China policy, further crystallizing its evolving sphere of influence.
At the geostrategic level, this Chinese maneuver totally negates the US island chain strategy – a maritime containment scheme first devised during the Korean War to restrain the former USSR and the PRC; still valid and applicable. It proposed to surround the USSR and the PRC with a series of military/naval bases in the Western Pacific on three parallel island chains, with the intention of projecting power and restricting access to the sea. (area denial, anti-access!).
In addition, two island chains are also envisaged in the Indian Ocean to reinforce this strategy. The Chinese see it as a maritime encirclement at the strategic level and seem to have crossed it. In one fell swoop, they changed the dynamics and paradigms of the US Island Chain Strategy and the geostrategic environment of the region. By penetrating deep into the South Pacific, they greatly increased their strategic reach and increased the possibilities of acquiring military/naval bases in the region as well.
This portends a substantial expansion of the potential Pacific theater of war, causing a pull on US-led forces in the Indo-Pacific, placing vital SLOCs in the region under its watch and positioning itself well to exploit the enormous riches of the South Pacific. Ocean! Chinese bases on Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea now allow its strategic bombers to penetrate even deeper into the South Pacific. The emergence of China as a real power in the Pacific/South Pacific Ocean is therefore inevitable.
At the geo-economic level, China is making a very deep and unequivocal push into the resource-rich and strategically crucial region. It is looking for new markets and access to the region’s enormous fisheries, raw materials and mineral resources. This is a win-win position for China and the Pacific Island States. Bilateral trade, climate change, investments, infrastructure development, tourism, etc. are the vectors allowing this relationship to develop further. Some analysts see Beijing’s forays into the region as stepping stones to the Americas and Antarctica as well. Thus, an economic challenge is developing for the island states of the Pacific in the Chinese presence in their region.
The Chinese incursion below could have angered the traditional powers of the Pacific Ocean. However, if a free and open Indo-Pacific is a sine qua non for coexistence there, then the same paradigms must be applied here as well; China and the Pacific Island States should develop their relations peacefully and without undue outside interference/influence.
The South Pacific must become a region of development, peace and stability and must never be allowed to degenerate into another potential theater of war!
The author is a retired brigadier in the Pakistani army. He can be reached at [email protected] and tweets @K846Im.
The South Pacific must become a region of development, peace and stability.