Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Samoa the same

Not exactly breaking, or braking, news this:
China a better Pacific friend than US: Samoan PM.

People's Republic of China–Samoa relations

China, and Taiwan, have been on a decades long quest to spend their way into strategic "alliances" with hands-out Pacific nation-island-states, whilst Western countries and "traditional" allies New Zealand and Australia have withdrawn support. The Pacific is dotted with many Chinese temples (of various sorts) to this buying power.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabou plans to appear in Fiji next month to meet delegates from Pacific Islands countries that recognise China but not Taiwan.

Pacific countries that prefer to deal with Taiwan rather than China either hadn't been invited to the meeting by the time Islands Business went to print or had decided to boycott it.

Next day, April 6, he'll have talks with the prime ministers of Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islands, Fiji and Vanuatu and president of the Federated States of Micronesia. All these countries prefer to [recognize] China in return for economic aid.

They are all members of the region's political club, the Pacific Islands Forum. The countries that prefer to [give] their loyalty to Taiwan-Tuvalu, Kiribati, Palau, the Solomon Islands, Nauru, Palau and the Marshall Islands are also Forum members.

This split in Forum country ranks is not the first one achieved by China as it wages its anti-Taiwan [campaign] in the Pacific Islands.

Initially, the China summit in the Pacific was heralded as the summit of Pacific leaders in the hope that heads of Forum-member governments would attend.

After hearing of Beijing's latest ploy for influence in the islands, the Taiwan Trade Mission representative in Suva, Sherman Shi-Nan Kuo objected to the involvement of the Forum Secretariat .

"Yes, we have informed the Forum that Taiwan opposes its involvement in the summit," he said. "We are a donor to the Forum and we told them that if they are organising a summit for China, then we can also ask for the same favour."

Taiwan Trade Mission's Kuo said that for 2006, Taiwan has [given] US$700,000 for the Forum Secretariat. It is also continuing with a US$500,000 scholarship scheme for island university students.

A Fiji government announcement said Jiabou's call would be a "historic" event since it would be the first meeting between China and the Pacific's islands nations.

Such Pacific Islands academics as Professor Ron Crocombe suggested that the Chinese are playing a long-term game for access to Pacific fish stocks which they already have and possible seabed mining opportunities.

In Papua New Guinea, the Chinese are moving into investment in mining and gas extraction.

The Australians have visions of the islands being taken over by Chinese organised crime and claim that drug busts, passport rackets and other criminal activities demonstrate that they're already happening.

Bertil Lintner, a journalist and an expert on organised crime, in a new book about Chinese organised crime, Blood Brothers, says China's diplomats cultivate gangs, routinely using them to spy on countries and to corrupt government politicians and bureaucrats.

President Chen Shiu Bian of Taiwan made a goodwill tour of some of Taiwan Pacific Islands friends in 2005.

The Chinese ambassador to Fiji, Cai Jinbiao, reacted with [apparent] anger in 2005 when he heard that the Taiwanese leader would overnight at Nadi and be welcomed with a Fijian welcoming ceremony by chiefs of the district.

By fronting up in Fiji, Jiabou will put it one over other major powers who for one reason or another has motives for cultivating Pacific Islanders for the few assets they have.

On May 26-27, Japan's prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, will host the fourth Japan-Pacific Islands meeting at Okinawa. Known as the PALM meeting, held every three years, it is Japan's big pitch for having good relations with the Pacific Islands.

On June 27, island leaders have been invited to be in Paris for a meeting with President Jacques Chirac, who first met them in French Polynesia two years ago.

The point of the meetings for the French is to keep Pacific leaders sweet about France's presence in the Pacific and improve relations between them and France's three Pacific territories.

In 1990, during an election trip to Hawaii, then President George Bush dropped in on a meeting of islands leaders there. His son dropped in briefly on a similar meeting in October 2003. Neither event brought anything much to the Pacific.

China has actively been cultivating relations with the Pacific Islands for more than two decades. In doing so, it has clashed often with Taiwan as the two have clawed each other for island government loyalties.

Both countries have [won] friendships with aid now totalling tens of millions of dollars.

There's hardly a Pacific Islands leader who hasn't been invited on one or more junket trips to China or Taiwan, depending on whom they back. Groups of Pacific Islands journalists are also led around in Beijing by the nose, blocked from seeing the sinister side of life in China.

The benefits gained by Taiwan from its Pacific games are the pleasure of annoying the Chinese, who are apt to turn ugly in their attempts to block switches of loyalty to Taiwan and having a voice at the United Nations.

China has cultivated Pacific Islands governments for more than 20 years. It has embassies in Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia and is planning to open a consulate in French Polynesia.

It's a tussle with Taiwan over Kiribati's loyalty it lost badly two years ago when a new Kiribati government elected for a lucrative deal with Taiwan. This led to the closure of the Chinese embassy at Tarawa-although four Chinese officials continue to lurk there-and the closure of a satellite and missile tracking station it operated there.

Former Vanuatu prime minister, Serge Vohor, made a bad mistake in 2004 when after junkets to Taiwan and China he switched Vanuatu's loyalties to Taiwan without consulting his cabinet ministers. Apparently got at by Chinese diplomats, the ministers rebelled and Vohor lost office.

Nauru had fun and games with China in 2005. It used to be pro-Taiwan, which thus helped with the cost of running Air Nauru.

In July 2002, the then Nauru government decided it could get a better deal even at the cost of money for Air Nauru and switched recognition to China. Last year, the present Nauru government, deciding that Taiwan was a better deal after all, restored its recognition of Taiwan to Beijing's mortification.

Islands Business was told of an extraordinary scene at Seoul airport last year when, enroute to Taiwan, President Ludwig Scotty after leaving an aircraft, was surrounded and practically dragged off by a horde of screaming Chinese officials intent on diverting him to Beijing.

He was presented with a ticket to Beijing and offered red carpet treatment. But President Scotty headed for Taiwan instead where the carpet he trod was a deeper red.

Last month, Air Nauru announced that with Taiwan's support it soon expected to replace its sole jet aircraft seized by the United States last year for debt.

Other Chinese/Taiwan conflict was over membership of the South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO), a regional agency backed by most of the Pacific's national tourism promotion offices.

Taiwan became one of SPTO's few sources of cash. Then China moved in by joining SPTO at ministerial level-the first non-Pacific government to do so.

It blocked Taiwan's application for membership with threats, although the application was supported by pro-Taiwan members.

The Chinese made it plain that if Taiwan was admitted, then countries that hope to be put on the list of tourist destinations that Chinese tourists were allowed to visit-chiefly Fiji, Vanuatu,

Tonga, the Cook Islands and French Polynesia-would be greatly disappointed.

More reading:

China Banking on Pacific Islands 2011
As noted by Balaji Chandramohan writing for The Diplomat late last year, a number of countries including India and China are actively courting Pacific island nations as part of efforts to secure the right to station military bases there or to help develop their natural resources.

But according to the Lowy report, there has been one motivation quite specific to China, namely diplomatic competition with Taiwan. Although it notes the improved ties with the mainland since Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou took office, it quotes a Taiwanese official as stating that countries always prepare for the worst.

The danger to islands accepting these soft loans is that they are going to end up being burdened by loan repayments they can’t afford. As the report noted, Chinese loans to Tonga now make up the equivalent of 32 percent of the country's GDP, while the figure for Samoa and the Cook Islands was 16 percent. Combine this with a lack of transparency, and it’s easy to see why some Pacific island officials are concerned.

Sino-Pacific relations in the Pacific Islands

Over the decades—and more so in recent years—there has been fierce competition between the two to win the support of Pacific Islands states with large packages of aid and a range of other financial inducements, including junkets to islands leaders.

This competition to win favours of the Pacific Islands has been described as chequebook diplomacy by the islands traditional development partners—notably New Zealand, Australia and more recently, the United States of America.

Unfortunately, many of the region’s leadership has fallen prey to these one-upmanship games between Taiwan and China and elections have been fought and governments fallen on the issue of whom to support.

Even in last month’s elections in the Marshall Islands, the question of allegiance was a major issue. Even outside the Pacific Islands region, the leaders of impoverished countries have fallen prey to this competition.

According to reports, the African nation of Malawi that supported Taiwan recently switched its support to China after it was promised a huge US$6 billion aid package.

The problem of diplomatic allegiance has caused deep schisms in the Pacific. Six Pacific Islands Forum nations—Nauru, the Solomon Islands, Palau, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu—currently support Taiwan, while the rest have followed the ‘One China Policy’, recognising the People’s Republic of China.

China and Taiwan have used the Pacific as their diplomatic battleground openly. During the annual Forum summit in Fiji in 2006, China’s assistant foreign minister publicly accused Taiwan of spreading corruption in the region with largesse.

Then again last year, Taiwan hosted a summit for its allies in Palau at the same time as the annual Forum leaders’ meet in Tonga. Several Forum leaders chose to attend the Taiwan meet—thereby upsetting some of the agenda at the Tonga meet.

Wooing the Islands: China and Taiwan High Stakes Bid for Pacific Island Support
Several Pacific Island nation governments are willing to “go with anybody” as long as it is lucrative. Selling votes at the United Nations is a common occurrence. Micronesian nations, as well as many Polynesian and Melanesian ones, regularly support virtually any resolutions proposed by the United States. Francis Hazel, director of The Micronesian Seminar, remembers how one day a television crew from Israel besieged his office in the capital of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Pohnpei. "I wondered what they were doing in this city, which hardly appears on any world maps. Then I understood: the Israeli public was curious about this country which keeps joining the U.S., voting against all UN resolutions condemning Israeli actions in the Middle East."

But China and Taiwan are the biggest players in this game. Both Taiwan and China have erected disproportionately huge buildings for use by local governments, including the parliamentary complex in Vanuatu and the government offices in Samoa. For the convention center in Majuro, Marshall Islands, where the 2nd Taiwan-Pacific Allies Summit took place last October, Taiwan spent approximately $5 million.

Image Source: Wikipedia

China and Taiwan in the South Pacific: Diplomatic Chess versus PacificPolitical Rugby

The Growing Chinese Presence in the Region
All countries' foreign relations contain some self-interest, all influence internal affairs, and all aid has strings (some visible but more hidden -- sometimes in the pockets and egos of the powerful). But in recent years in the Pacific Islands, China pursues its self-interest more forcefully, interferes more in Pacific Islands internal affairs, and has more strings on its aid than any other country.

The indigenous people of Taiwan (who were there for 6000 years before the Chinese invaded) are Austronesian, as are the ancestors of all Polynesians. In indigenous Taiwanese languages today, the word "mata" means eye as in many Polynesian languages. The Chinese people of Taiwan mostly migrated there 200 to 300 years ago and have become a different people (like the European people of USA and Australia are different from those of Europe and don't want to be recolonised by any European power). If Cook Islands leaders are happy to help crush their fellow Austronesians in Taiwan in order to gain some glory, ego massages, free trips and perks, and money to help their elections, one can understand that. But China's claim to Taiwan is simple greed for power.

China has a record of causing internal problems in Pacific countries. That is a long, sad story. Just in the last few months, President Anote Tong, of Kiribati (who is himself half-Chinese), complained of the government of China trying to destabilise his government. Then Prime Minister Saufatu Sopo'anga, of Tuvalu, lost a vote-of-no-confidence because, although Tuvalu recognises Taiwan, the prime minister was enticed by China on a secret fully-funded trip to Beijing without telling his cabinet. That caused disruption and a new election.

Aid is usually given by the richer to the poorer. But Cook Islanders are much richer (and much freer, better educated, etc), than Chinese. Income per person in the Cook Islands is much higher than in China. So why do richer Cook Islanders beg from poorer Chinese, and why is the government that controls the poor Chinese so keen to give to rich Cook Islanders instead of to its own much poorer people, many of whom are starving right now? Or to poorer people elsewhere?

It is because they figure that Cook Islands politicians are easy to manipulate and that it is the cheapest vote China can buy in the 30 or so international organisations to which the Cook Islands belongs. Although the Cook Islands is the richest Forum Island country per person in the Pacific, China has given more aid per person to the Cook Islands than to any other. It is a small step in China's strategy to dominate in the region.

Looking North, Looking South: China, Taiwan, and the South Pacific

Asia in the Pacific Islands: Replacing the West

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