The rivalry between the US and China has ruffled feathers in the Pacific Islands, with fears that the two superpowers are trying to polarize the region. Fiji’s Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka hopes US-China rivalry in the strategic region does not develop into a military conflict. He reminded the two countries that the Pacific Islands should be a “zone of peace”.
The Fijian government said the United States and China are trying to polarize the Pacific into their respective camps. “So, we have to be very certain that whatever we do, we are mindful of the collective need of the Pacific to be a zone of peace, a zone of non-aligned territories. Hopefully that will not develop into military conflict or military jealousies that will see a buildup of military forces or weapons in the area.”
The US fears that Beijing is outcompeting it in even the tiniest of countries. As such, Washington is rushing to collect its share to boost long-dormant ties to island nations in the Pacific. However, China already has a very strong presence in this region, going back decades.
Solomon Islands is already a China ally, having sealed and signed defense and policing pacts and Tonga is deeply in debt to Beijing. During his trip to Tonga, Antony Blinken said the US is determined to be a strong partner. He said Tonga and other Pacific Islands were free to pick their partners, including China, and that they did not face a choice between Washington and Beijing. However, the US Secretary of State said he was worried about “Chinese behavior” toward the region.
“As Chinese engagement with the region has grown, there has been some, from our perspective, increasingly problematic behavior, including predatory financing, militarization of the South China Sea, and investments that undermine other countries’ sovereignty.”
And now, the region has been caught in a tug-of-war between the US and China. Both countries are vying for influence among the island nations for trade, investment, security and diplomacy. This has also widened political divides.