By Ben Blanchard
BEIJING (Reuters) – No country can block China’s cooperation with island nations in the Pacific and the area is no country’s sphere of influence, a senior diplomat said on Tuesday, ahead of a summit between President Xi Jinping and Pacific island leaders.
Australia, in particular, has been vying for influence with China in sparsely populated Pacific island countries that control vast swathes of resource-rich oceans.
Australia will offer Pacific countries up to A$3 billion (1.67 billion pounds)in grants and cheap loans to build infrastructure, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last week.
Xi is due to meet leaders from eight Pacific nations it has diplomatic ties with at the end of the week in Papua New Guinea, where he will offer “important measures” for more cooperation, Vice Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang told a news briefing.
“Other countries should not obstruct China’s friendly cooperation and exchanges with the island nations. Of course, they have no way to obstruct this cooperation and these exchanges,” Zheng said, without specifying any country.
Meeting in Beijing last week, the Chinese government’s top diplomat told his Australian counterpart that Beijing and Canberra should be cooperating in the South Pacific and not be cast as strategic rivals.
Zheng said China was willing to cooperate with other countries in the Pacific, and that everyone should “positively respond to the special difficulties island nations face and urgent needs” and help them to achieve sustainable development.
“The island country region is not any country’s sphere of influence. Everyone should jointly help the island nations,” he said.
“We hope that relevant parties can objectively and positively view China’s relations with Pacific Island nations, and earnestly abandon outdated concepts of Cold War thinking and zero-sum games, and do more to benefit the island nations’ development and improvement of livelihoods and regional peace and stability.”
China has spent $1.3 billion on concessionary loans and gifts since 2011 to become the Pacific’s second-largest donor after Australia, stoking concern in the West that several tiny nations could end up overburdened and in debt to Beijing.
Xi will be meeting the leaders of Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Vanuatu, Samoa, Micronesia, the Cook Islands, Tonga and Niue.
Zheng did not give a date for the summit, only saying meetings would be happening in Port Moresby on Thursday and Friday, ahead of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Papua New Guinea on the weekend.
Six other Pacific island nations have diplomatic relations with Taiwan though, which Beijing regards as a wayward Chinese province with no right to formal foreign ties. Their leaders will not be attending the meeting with Xi.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)