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Does the West need to fear China’s presence in the pacific?

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China’s influence in the Pacific is causing concern for some Western nations who are playing a diminished role in the region

Tides are changing in the Pacific, an area which has long deferred to the West, but is increasingly gazing eastward.

The changing dynamic has been typified by the landmark security deal signed by China and the Solomon Islands. This week, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi embarked on an historic 10 day tour of eight Pacific Island nations.

Should Western nations fear China’s growing influence in the Pacific?

The Pacific Islands have a long history of Western influence, dating back hundreds of years to European colonisation.

But nations such as Australia and the U.S. are suddenly having to contend with the arrival of a new player.

Benjamin Herscovitch, a research fellow at the Australia National University, told TICKER NEWS China’s increased influence in the area represents a “dramatic shift in circumstances” for the region.

“We are at the beginning of a really heated up period of competition between Australia and China for influence in the Pacific,” he says.

This will place further pressure on an already strained relationship.

In recent years, the two nations have butted heads over a number of issues including human rights and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Two weeks ago, relations between the two nations flared again. In the lead up to the Australian federal election, then defence minister Peter Dutton labelled the presence of a Chinese spy ship off the coast of Western Australia was “an aggressive act”.

Despite outcry from the West, there is still no evidence China’s intentions in the Pacific have militaristic undercurrents.

Yi has started his tour of the Pacific by promising his government has “no intention” of building a military base in the Solomon Islands.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is on a ten day tour of the Pacific

What is China’s goal in the Pacific?

While China’s role in the Pacific will likely become a point of contention, Herscovitch doesn’t believe it is coming from a position of Chinese aggression.

Rather, it is the natural progression for a country becoming more influential across the globe.

“A lot of the alarmist commentary in Australia maybe fails to appreciate that we’re coming in this period of rising Chinese influence and power globally,” he says.

“It’s almost to be expected that you’d have Beijing having a much larger footprint in Australia’s region.”

“China is a country with an incredibly large economy, with trading interests that span the globe, with diplomatic and political interests that span the globe.”

Benjamin Herscovitch, ANU

“China’s expanding footprint, expanding influence is just part and parcel of China emerging as the globe’s greatest economic power,” he says.

Will Island nations benefit from competition in the Pacific?

Herscovitch says the dispute could be “a good news story” for island nations because states will compete to invest in the area as a way to build influence in the Pacific.

“We’ll see a lot of competition for investment, a lot of competition for influence between key economies, and that’s probably beneficial for Pacific Island countries,” he says.

Pacific nations also look set to benefit by increased action on climate change.

As some of the most low-lying nations in the world, global warming and rising sea levels are of huge concern to the area.

Australia’s foreign minister Penny Wong also visited the Pacific to pledge an improvement in Australia’s climate change policy.

“There’s a sense here in which Australia’s desire for influence will encourage Australia to be more forward leaning, more proactive on climate change issues,” Herscovitch says.

New role for the West in the pacific?

With China beginning to gain a foothold in the Pacific, Herscovitch says the West may have to alter its diplomatic approach.

He believes Australia and U.S. have been overly critical of South Pacific countries, and in particular the Solomon Islands, for engaging with China.

In the backlash following Solomon Islands’ defence treaty with China, the nation’s Prime Minister Mannasseh Sogavare accused the Australian government and its allies of undermining his government.

Herscovitch labels this approach as “counterproductive” to maintaining relations with the Pacific nations, saying “we should always respect their sovereign decisions and respect their independent choices.”

He says Australia, the U.S. and Japan has a highly important role in providing expertise and advise on how to manage their relationship with China as they become more economically entwined with the global power.

“They’re relying on China for more infrastructure, and it’s really important that their officials are empowered with all the necessary information to manage that relationship and to manage that growing dependency,” he says.

Bryan Hoadley contributed to this report

World

Over 20 young people mysteriously die at nightclub

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Authorities in South Africa are investigating the deaths of 22 people, who were mysteriously found in a nightclub

Victims were found spread across the tables and floors in a coastal town.

They have been taken for testing, as authorities scramble to find a cause of death.

South Africa’s President is sending his “deepest condolences” to families of the victims, most of whom are teenagers.

The tragedy has taken place during Youth Month, where South Africa pushes for more opportunities to help young people from poor socio-economic backgrounds.

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World

Deadly stadium collapse at bullfighting event in Columbia

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At least four people have died, and 500 injured at a bullfighting stadium in Columbia

Videos show a stand collapsing during the event, as emergency workers race to help.

Local media reports that hospitals have begun helping those who were injured.

The nation’s newly-elected President is calling for an end to bullfighting, tweeting that tragedies like this have already happened in the past.

He is urging local authorities to not allow more shows that involve the death of people or animals.

Investigations continue into the cause of the collapse.

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Climate Change

Major disruption in Sydney as climate protesters take to the streets

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There’s been major disruption across Sydney, as climate protesters take to the streets and block CBD roads

NSW Police officers chased dozens of climate protesters who were seen throwing milk crates, and barricades.

One demonstrator blocked the entry to one of the busiest thoroughfares in the city.

Members from Blockade Australia kicked off the rally by attempting to stop flowing traffic by dragging rubbish bins, construction barriers and building material into the middle of the road.

The Sydney Harbour Tunnel has now reopened but the organisation says it will hold more protests this week.

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