Blinken meets with Quad, the Pacific Islands in the middle of intensified rivalry between the USA and China – BenarNews
Blinken meets with Quad, the Pacific Islands in the middle of intensified rivalry between the USA and China – BenarNews

Blinken meets with Quad, the Pacific Islands in the middle of intensified rivalry between the USA and China – BenarNews

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Melbourne, Australia, the first stop on a seven-day visit to the Indo-Pacific, which analysts say aims to counter China’s growing influence in the region.

His trip, which runs until February 13, includes stops in Fiji and Hawaii – the first visit by the top US diplomat to Fiji in almost four decades. It’s an attempt to increase US engagement with remote islands in the South Pacific – described by an analyst as a “ground zero” for strategic competition between the United States and China.

But first, Blinken will meet on Friday with foreign ministers from Quad, a four-sided strategic partnership that includes the United States, Australia, India and Japan.

“There will be important discussions to promote Quad as a key organization for addressing security issues in the Indo-Pacific, especially in the context of growing challenges from a growing China,” said Malcolm Davis, senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a think tank based in Canberra .

While not a defense alliance like NATO, but a diplomatic and political partnership, Quad focuses on broad issues of international security, including managing the COVID pandemic, responding to risks and opportunities by critical and emerging technologies, ensuring maritime security and stability, and other areas, “Davis said.

In September, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States announced a new trilateral security pact for the Indo-Pacific region called AUKUS. China reacted strongly to the pact, calling it a product of the “Cold War mentality”.

“I believe that the Quad, although not formally linked to the AUKUS, is working closely with the AUKUS to strengthen multilateral security arrangements to promote and build a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” Davis said.

Last week, China and Russia unveiled a new comprehensive agreement covering several areas of cooperation, including security, space, climate change, the Internet and artificial intelligence.

This new pact, which is generally considered to challenge America and the West, will no doubt be discussed at the Quad of Foreign Ministers’ meeting.

The meeting will also discuss the Pacific Islands how to increase vaccine distribution, tackle climate change and push back against aggression and coercion in the region.

On Saturday, Blinken visits Fiji, the first visit there by a US Secretary of State since 1985.

“Blinken’s visit sends a strong message to Fiji and more broadly to the Pacific states with American interests and attention,” Davis said.

In this file by Reuters, a man walks past a Chinese hospital ship moored in the port of Suva, the Fijian capital, on August 24, 2014. The United States is seeking to intensify its engagement with the Pacific Islands amid strategic competition with China. [Reuters]

‘Reconnect to the Pacific’

The visit gives the United States a chance to reconnect with the countries of the region, said Jonathan Pryke, director of the Pacific Islands program at the Lowy Institute, a think tank in Sydney.

“Fiji was chosen because it is a center of the region, many multilateral and regional organizations are based there. As many other nations either still do not receive foreign visitors or fight COVID outbreaks, it is a natural choice for a country in the Pacific to visit, ”said Pryke.

Eighteen Pacific Island leaders have been invited to a video meeting with Blinken on Saturday “to discuss the climate crisis, end the COVID-19 pandemic, disaster relief and ways to promote our common commitment to democracy, regional solidarity and prosperity in the Pacific”, according to a statement from the U.S. State Department.

In recent years, China has actively developed closer ties with the Pacific Islands, courting them with infrastructure loans and financial assistance as well as military exchanges.

Six Pacific governments – the Cook Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu – are in debt to China, according to a report from Lowy Institute. Everyone signed up for China Belt and road initiativeBeijing Global Infrastructure Master Plan.

“The Pacific Islands have too late become a ‘ground zero’ for the strategic competition between China on the one hand and the United States, Australia and to a lesser extent Japan on the other,” said Alexander Vuving, a professor at Asia. -Pacific Center for Security Studies, a U.S. Department of Defense based in Honolulu.

“They mean something to the great powers because of their strategic location, their large exclusive economic zones (EEZ), their relatively high number of votes in the UN and their extreme susceptibility to great power influence,” Vuving said.

An EEZ is an area of ​​the sea that generally extends over 200 nautical miles, within which a coastal nation has jurisdiction over resources.

Vuving described the Pacific Islands as “an important diplomatic battlefield between China and Taiwan for decades.”

Four Pacific nations including Nauru, the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and Palau have official relations with Taiwan, while Kiribati and the Solomon Islands shifted diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019.

Blinken will face the task of reassuring the Pacific island states of the commitment of the United States and its allies in helping them fight the COVID pandemic, deliver more vaccines, and tackle climate change and security challenges.

Kurt Campbell, president Joe Biden’s Indo-Pacific coordinator, said last month that the United States had “enormous moral, strategic, historical interests” in the Pacific, but had not done enough to help the region.

In an address to the Washington Center for Strategic and International Studies, Campbell said: “And we have very little time to work with partners like Australia, like New Zealand, like Japan, like France, who have an interest in the Pacific, to go up our game across the board. “

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