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Pacific island countries won't take sides: China Daily editorial | Updated: 2023-08-24 20:24
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As Western powers push the Pacific island nations to take their side in their attempts to counter alleged Chinese influence in the South Pacific, countries in the region are pushing back.

As Leonard Louma, director-general of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, an intergovernmental organization dedicated to independence for Indigenous Melanesian groups, has pointed out, taking sides under the pressure of geopolitical competition won't help protect regional countries' interests. On the contrary, third-party pressure is preventing countries in the region from choosing partners of their own choice while pursuing development.

The Pacific island countries were largely forgotten by the West. They had not been back on the Western radar until very recently, when the United States and its allies started viewing China as a rival. All of a sudden, the region has become an area of interest on their geopolitical chessboard.

Senior officials from the United States, Australia and Japan have made trips to countries in the region, trying hard to make sure the countries concerned give a cold shoulder to China. For all their promises of aid and cooperation, everything is ultimately tied to "security", which has been a non-issue for long. During his visit to Tonga in late July, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his host the US doesn't ask South Pacific island countries to take sides. But he admonished the latter for giving in to "economic coercion" by China. The US defense secretary, who visited Papua New Guinea about the same time, highlighted alleged security risks from collaborating with China.

By and large, in the Western countries' present narrative, the growing Chinese presence in the region, which has so far predominantly centered on economic development, heralds a dangerous new future where China rewrites the international rules and reshapes the world order in its own favor.

Yet one can see none of that in the Beijing-proposed global initiatives on development, security and civilization, as well as its call for countries to build a community with a shared future for humanity. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson responded to Western allegations in late July, saying the Pacific islands are no country's "backyard" and China has no interest in competing with any country for influence in the region or seeking a so-called geopolitical presence or sphere of influence.

While the Western visitors clearly see the emerging Chinese involvement in regional affairs through the prism of rivalry, countries in the region know best what their dealings with China mean. More important, they don't want to see their region become a playground for major power confrontation.

At their two-day meeting in Vanuatu on Wednesday and Thursday, the leaders of Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Fiji, and New Caledonia's ruling FLNKS party, along with members of the Melanesian Spearhead Group indicated that they don't want to be pieces in the West's game, emphasizing that they want the region to be one of peace and neutrality.

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