The President of the Federated States of Micronesia says he has serious concerns about the details of two leaked Chinese government documents to be tabled at a meeting next week.
President David Panuelo warns the sovereignty of the Pacific Island countries is at stake, and that the outcome of one of the documents could result in a cold war or even a world war.
Panuelo has written to 18 Pacific leaders — including New Zealand, Australia, and the Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum — specifically about the China-Pacific Island Countries Common Development Vision.
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The other document is a five-year plan to implement the outcomes into action.
In his letter he said the Common Development Vision and Monday’s meeting was a “smokescreen” for a larger agenda, and further warned that China was looking to exert more control over Pacific nations’ sovereignty and that this document threatened to bring at the very least a new Cold War era but in the worst-case scenario, a world war.
He has urged leaders in the region to look at it carefully before making any decisions.
In particular, Panuelo noted that the Vision sought to “fundamentally alter what used to be bilateral relations with China into multilateral issues”.
Ensuring ‘Chinese control’
The Vision he added sought to “… ensure Chinese control of ‘traditional and non-traditional security” of our islands, including through law enforcement training, supplying, and joint enforcement efforts, which can be used for the protection of Chinese assets and citizens.
It suggests “cooperation on network and governance” and “cybersecurity” and “equal emphasis on development and security”, and that there shall be “economic development and protection of national security and public interests”.
“The Common Development Vision seeks to ensure Chinese influence in government through ‘collaborative’ policy planning and political exchanges, including diplomatic training, in addition to an increase in Chinese media relationships in the Pacific …,” he said.
“The Common Development Vision seeks Chinese control and ownership of our communications infrastructure, as well as customs and quarantine infrastructure …. for the purpose of biodata collection and mass surveillance of those residing in, entering, and leaving our islands, ostensibly to occur in part through cybersecurity partnership.”
The Vision he said “… seeks Chinese control of our collective fisheries and extractive resource sectors, including free trade agreements, marine spatial planning, deep-sea mining, and extensive public and private sector loan-taking through the Belt and Road Initiative via the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.”
Panuelo said the proposed China-Pacific leaders meeting on Monday in Fiji was intended to “shift those of us with diplomatic relations with China very closely into Beijing’s orbit, intrinsically tying the whole of our countries and societies to them.
“The practical impacts, however, of Chinese control over our communications infrastructure, our ocean territory and the resources within them, and our security space, aside from impacts on our sovereignty is that it increases the chances of China getting into conflict with Australia, Japan, the United States, and New Zealand, on the day when Beijing decides to invade Taiwan.
China’s goal – ‘take Taiwan’
“To be clear, that’s China’s goal: to take Taiwan. Peacefully, if possible; through war, if necessary.”
Panuelo said the FSM would attend Monday’s meeting and would reject both documents “on the premise that we believe the proposed agreement needlessly heightens geopolitical tensions, and that the agreement threatens regional stability and security, including both my country’s Great Friendship with China and my country’s Enduring Partnership with the United States.”
He said the Vision and meeting were a “smokescreen for a larger agenda”.
“Despite our ceaseless and accurate howls that Climate Change represents the single-most existential security threat to our islands, the Common Development Vision threatens to bring a new Cold war era at best, and a World War at worst.”
He said the only way to maintain the relationship with Beijing was to focus exclusively on economic and technical cooperation.
Panuelo hoped that by alerting his Pacific colleagues of developments that “… we can collectively take the steps necessary to prevent any intensified conflict, and possible breakout of war, from ever happening in the first place”.
“I believe that Australia needs to take climate change more seriously and urgently. I believe that the United States should have a diplomatic presence in all sovereign Pacific Islands Countries, and step-up its assistance to all islands, to include its own states and territories in the Pacific.”
Not a justification
Panuelo summed up: “However, it is my view that the shortcomings of our allies are not a justification for condemning the leaders who succeed us in having to accept a war that we failed to recognise was coming and failed to prevent from occurring.
“We can only reassert the rightful focus on climate change as our region’s most existential threat by taking every single possible action to promote peace and harmony across our Blue Pacific Continent.”
Panuelo said his cabinet has suggested the FSM resist the objectives of the documents and the nation maintain its own bilateral agenda for development and engagement with China.
He also said the documents would open up Pacific countries to having phone calls and emails intercepted and overheard.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi is currently visiting several Pacific countries.
This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.