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Pacific Islands strategy focuses on prosperity

By KARL WILSON in Sydney | China Daily | Updated: 2022-07-16 11:29

Relief supplies are unloaded in Tonga from a Chinese naval vessel after the Pacific island nation was hit by a volcanic eruption and tsunami in January. XUE CHENGQING/XINHUA

Analysts see potential in its vision for closer ties with nations including China

The Pacific Islands Forum has launched its long-term development strategy to help address the challenges faced by the region and its people, which analysts see the potential for closer cooperation with China among others.

The 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent was endorsed by the regional heads of governments at the 51st Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting in Fiji's capital Suva on Thursday.

"As Pacific leaders, our vision is for a resilient Pacific region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion and prosperity, that ensures all Pacific peoples can lead free, healthy and productive lives," the leaders' vision in the document stated.

Forum chairman and Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said:"The 2050 Strategy is about what we share, our challenges and our opportunities about what we need to do together. This is why the 2050 Strategy focuses on our people."

China, which is a dialogue partner of the Pacific Islands Forum, will assist, where it can, to help the Pacific Island countries, or PICs, achieve their development goals, analysts and diplomats said.

James Laurenceson, director of the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney, said China has established good working relationships with Pacific nations in recent years to help with economic aid.

"Across the globe, China has put a great deal of energy into relations with developing countries and that is a good thing. You see that in the Pacific, Africa and Latin America," he said.

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who co-chaired the second China-Pacific Island Countries Foreign Ministers' Meeting with the Fijian prime minister in late May, said China supports PICs in seeking peace and development and in their people's freedom to pursue better lives.

Hans Hendrischke, a professor of Chinese business and management at the University of Sydney, pointed out that China is already the biggest trading partner for several Pacific nations.

He said China's Belt and Road Initiative will be the development model for the region. BRI projects have already improved the living conditions of locals and capacities in several island countries.

'Diplomatic power'

James Bhagwan, leader of the Pacific Regional Non-Governmental Organisations Alliance, said the 2050 strategy fostered greater diplomatic power. "It has to work, because we need this as a region," he said.

Pichamon Yeophantong, senior lecturer in international relations and development at the University of New South Wales Canberra, said the priorities and needs of PICs are very clear. "Climate change and development, along with security, rank highly in their policy agendas," she said, noting that with Western media narratives focusing on what is happening in the region, "sometimes it feels like the Pacific islands are being treated like passive bystanders".

"In reality, however, they are very good in diplomacy, hedging and balancing between regional powers, and we have seen that come through recently," she said.

At a news briefing in Beijing on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that for over half a century, China and Pacific Island countries have witnessed sound growth in bilateral relations and fruitful cooperation in various fields.

"We are happy to see PICs receive more support for its development and vitalization from countries willing to do so," Wang said when asked about the US' moves.

US Vice-President Kamala Harris told the Pacific Islands Forum on Wednesday that the United States will appoint a new envoy to the forum, invest an additional $500 million in funding into the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency in return for fishing rights, and reestablish a US Agency for International Development regional mission in Fiji apart from setting up new embassies in Tonga and Kiribati.

"We believe that all countries, when pursuing cooperation with PICs, should follow the principle of openness and inclusiveness and not target any third party or harm their interests," Wang added.

With the 2050 strategy now endorsed, the forum will focus on its delivery and implementation.

Bainimarama acknowledged that the successful implementation of the 2050 strategy will require that "our dialogue and development partners, regional agencies and international agencies understand and align their development plans to the strategy and engage with us on this basis".

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