SUVA (Reuters) – China hosted a separate political dialogue with Pacific island countries on the same day Pacific Island Forum leaders met and agreed to resolve security issues within “the family”, highlighting rising geopolitical competition in the region.
The Chinese embassy in the Fijiian capital Suva tweeted a photograph of the event, hosted by the Chinese Communist Party’s international department in Beijing. Participants attended the meeting either in person or by video link, and the embassy noted that Fiji’s defence minister attended by video.
Reuters reported last month that China had proposed a meeting to coincide with the Pacific Islands Forum, which includes Australia and New Zealand. China is not a member of the forum and was not invited, but is among 20 dialogue partners that also include the United States.
Beijing’s quest for greater security ties in the region has caused concern among U.S. allies.
The Chinese meeting was held on July 14, the same day a dozen Pacific Island Forum leaders met and agreed to a communique, and a day after the U.S. vice president Kamala Harris addressed the forum by video and pledged to triple aid.
Western diplomats in Suva said it was unknown if there were any outcomes from the Chinese meeting.
The state-owned China Daily said it was a meeting of political parties, addressed by the new minister for the Chinese Communist Party’s international department, Liu Jianchao.
Tonga’s justice minister, Niue and Vanuatu’s finance ministers, and representatives from Papua New Guinea and Federated States of Micronesia were among the participants, the Chinese embassy’s tweet showed.
China Daily reported the president of a Solomon Islands political party, who is also a top resources official, said “his party and country would like to enhance cooperation with the CPC and China to accelerate national development and rejuvenation.”
Pacific Islands Forum secretary general Henry Puna told reporters after the forum leaders meeting that an earlier approach by China, when it asked 10 out of 18 forum members to endorse a pre-prepared security and trade deal, was rejected by forum leaders.
The largest forum members, Australia and New Zealand, and several nations with ties to Taiwan and France, were excluded from the China proposal.
A forum communique that is yet to be released says the leaders agree to consult each other and take a “family first approach to peace and security”.
Solomon Island’s Prime Minister Mannaseh Sogavare assured his Australian counterpart at the forum there would be no Chinese military base in his country, despite a new security pact with Beijing, and Australia remained its security partner of choice.
Kiribati, which this week split from the forum, was represented in the Chinese meeting by its ambassador to Beijing.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)