Will a passenger balloon to the Pacific Island give Australia an advantage over its rivalry with China?

The opening of a Chinese embassy to Kiribati, a nation of 33 atolls and reef islands in the central Pacific Ocean, might seem strange – especially during a pandemic. Only three other countries have embassies in the island nation: Australia, New Zealand and Cuba.

Yet Kiribati is a place of growing geopolitical competition.

Last September, he transferred diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing. China considers the self-governing island of Taiwan a separate province and has fought seven of its diplomatic allies since 2016.

And this week, Kiribati pro-Beijing President Taneti Maamau – who oversaw the country’s diplomatic change – won a carefully observed election after advocating stronger ties with China, defeating an opposition rival who sympathized with Taiwan.

Kiribati is the latest example of Beijing’s growing influence in the Pacific Ocean consisting of a series of resource-rich islands that control vital waterways between Asia and America.
The picturesque islands have long been aligned with the U.S., which has a large military presence, and allies like Australia, the region the largest donor and security partnerBut in recent years, many have established stronger ties with China because of Beijing ‘s diplomatic and economic reach – creating a turning point for geopolitical tensions.

As Canberra and Beijing help the region, the possibility of a traveling bubble between the Pacific Islands and Australia has given rivalry a new dimension.

Deepening reach

In 2006, then-Prime Minister Wen Jiabao became the top Chinese official to visit the Pacific Islands. He promised 3 billion yuan ($ 424 million) of concession loans to invest in resource development, agriculture, fisheries and other key industries, a sign of Beijing’s interest in the region.
Beijing is the second largest donor today – after Australia alone data compiled by the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank.

For the Pacific islands, which have a GDP of about $ 33.77 billion – less than 1% of China’s total GDP – China was a key partner during the pandemic.

Chinese health experts have given advice on how to fight the coronavirus video conferencing with his counterparts in 10 Pacific countries sharing diplomatic relations with Beijing.
In March, China announced donation of $ 1.9 million in cash and medical supplies to help countries fight Covid-19. They also sent medical supplies, protective equipment and test kits, according to statements by Chinese embassies in the region.
Chinese medical teams are on the ground among nations, including samoa, helping local health authorities develop guidelines on how to control coronavirus. Specialized military vehicles are provided in Fiji.
According to the World Health Organization, the Pacific Ocean reported 312 cases and 7 deathsmost of which are located in the American territory of Guam.

The islands have so far largely guarded the coronavirus thanks to distance and early locking measures. But local communities could face disastrous consequences if the virus were affected, due to inadequate health care and a lack of testing capacity, experts warned.

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“China’s engagement in the Pacific today is driven by opportunism. They are trying to gain as much influence as possible,” said Jonathan Pryke, program director for the Pacific Islands at the Lowy Institute.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs denies this, saying China’s aid to the countries of the Pacific islands is “real” and has “no political connection.”
Why China is challenging Australia because of its influence on the Pacific Ocean Islands

But stronger connections can be useful in times of need.

In May, when China faced a global hinterland due to an early crackdown on the coronavirus epidemic, it turned to the Pacific for help. Days before the World Health Assembly in May, ministers from 10 Pacific countries joined a video conference on Covid-19 convened by China.

The meeting ended with a brilliant confirmation of the Chinese response to the coronavirus.

“This was needed by the Chinese government,” said Denghua Zhang of Australia’s National University of Canberra.

IN joint press release following the event, Pacific Island nations praised China for its “open, transparent and accountable approach in adopting timely and robust response measures and sharing the experience of retention.”

The Trump administration has repeatedly blamed China for the pandemic, while Canberra has angered Beijing with its call for an independent investigation into the origins of the virus.

Australia enters

China helped the Pacific coronavirus, pALES compared to the financial support provided by Australia. Last month, Canberra He said they spent A $ 100 million ($ 69 million) to provide “quick financial support” to 10 countries in the region, diverting money from their existing aid programs.
Recently, there was also Australia announced that it will broadcast popular domestic television shows such as “Neighbors” and “Masterchef” in seven Pacific Island countries – a move widely understood as a soft thrust of power in the fight against China’s growing influence.

“The Australian government has clearly acknowledged that there can be no room for creating a vacuum, (whether it’s hard power, soft power, aid or the medical front,” Pryke said.

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“I can’t withdraw from any vacuum for fear that China might fill it.”

That was on Australian radar before the pandemic. After taking office in 2018, Prime Minister Scott Morrison launched his “Pacific Step Up” initiative, which includes increased foreign aid and the establishment of An infrastructure fund worth $ 1.5 billion for the region.

Travel bladder

One way the pandemic could affect geopolitical rivalries in the Pacific is by selectively easing travel restrictions between states.

As Australia and New Zealand bring the coronavirus under control, their politicians are discussing opening borders, creating a travel corridor – or “passenger bubble” – between the two countries.

Both countries successfully aligned their coronavirus curves by the end of April, although Australia is now facing a sharp drop in cases in the state of Victoria.

Pacific Island nations, including Fiji. Samoa and the Solomon Islands they asked to join the plan.
Aerial view of the island of Erakor and the coast of the Port Villa in Vanuatu.

So far, there has been no public report on a plan between the Pacific Island and China for a similar passenger balloon. At the moment, China seems to be focusing on neighboring borders – its southern province of Guangdong has talked to Hong Kong and Macao about the travel bubble.

Blocking the coronavirus puts tremendous pressure on the economies of Pacific tourism-dependent countries, with Australia and New Zealand being the main source of tourists there. In 2018, the two countries contributed more than a million foreigners to the Pacific region, accounting for 51% of tourist arrivals, according to report from the South Pacific Tourist Organization. By comparison, 124,939 Chinese tourists visited the Pacific Ocean Islands in 2018, a decrease of 10.9% over the previous year.

Some Australian politicians are also eager to see the trans-Pacific bubble.

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Dave Sharma, a spokesman for the ruling Liberal party, wrote in an Australian newspaper last month that the involvement would help Canberra’s Pacific economic neighbors and ensure they “continue to see Australia as their first-choice partner”.

“Strategic competition in the Pacific is alive and well, and China and other countries want to play a bigger role. It is important that our influence and footprint is visible in our close neighborhood,” he wrote.

While geopolitics is not the primary motivator of the passenger bubble – rather, a key driver is the need to get economies back on track, Pryke said – lifting travel restrictions between Australia and the Pacific Island would provide some geopolitical gains in Canberra and Wellington.

“In a way, Australia and New Zealand would become gatekeepers for access to the Pacific Ocean as the pandemic continues around the world. So that would, of course, give Australia and New Zealand additional geopolitical advantages,” he said.

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