China in the South Pacific : No New Hegemon on the Horizon

Seib, Roland


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Dokumentart: Bericht / Forschungsbericht / Abhandlung
Institut: HSFK-Hessische Stiftung Friedens- und Konfliktforschung
Schriftenreihe: PRIF reports
Bandnummer: 90
Sprache: Englisch
Erstellungsjahr: 2009
Publikationsdatum: 02.02.2011
Originalveröffentlichung: (2009)
DDC-Sachgruppe: Politik
BK - Basisklassifikation: 89.90 (Außenpolitik, Internationale Politik), 89.40 (Innere Beziehungen des Staates: Allgemeines)
Sondersammelgebiete: 3.6 Politik und Friedensforschung

Kurzfassung auf Englisch:

From 2000 until 2010, the People’s Republic of China has taken on a much more significant role in the international arena. Its steadily growing economic and political involvement in Asia, Africa and Latin America is associated with its rise as a new world power with the potential to challenge the global leadership role of the remaining superpower, the United States. The People’s Republic is also continually expanding its influence in the South Pacific region. Although it has diplomatic relations with only seven of the 13 independent South Pacific island states, after 200 years of Western domination there is now already talk of an unfolding paradigm shift within the region. In less than 10 years China’s trade with the South Pacific States has increased tenfold to US$ 1.4 billion (2007). Whereas Western states have reduced or even completely closed down their embassies, staff and developmental cooperation in the region since the end of the Cold War, Peking has constantly expanded its diplomatic presence and development cooperation. Security experts are warning about the long-term strategic intentions of the People’s Republic in the region. Many are asserting that the South Pacific has already been chosen by Peking as its strategic backyard. Others see the U.S. as already under challenge in the region as the unipolar hegemon today, and are proclaiming a new cold war. In fact, there is no doubt that the days are over where the South Pacific was solely under the influence of the West. The Chinese government has sagely and deftly turned the waning interest of European countries and the U.S. in the region, which reflects worldwide economic structural changes in the context of a changing international division of labor, to its advantage by deepening bilateral relations with its South Pacific partners. Although the motivation for Chinese involvement from the middle of the 1990s initially focused on blocking further expansion of Taiwan and the solidarity of the States when issues were put to a vote in international organizations, over the past decade this has been augmented by the desire to secure supplies of raw materials and sales markets. These are necessary to maintain China’s rapid pace of economic growth. The competition between China and Taiwan for diplomatic recognition is taking on a destructive quality. The validity of the basic principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of other States championed by mainland China, one of the “five principles of peaceful coexistence,” is not respected by Beijing itself, as shown by their cloaked interventions in the domestic policy of numerous island states. The influence of the two States (“check-book diplomacy”) corrupts internal political processes, devalues elections and reduces the legitimacy of people active in politics. All told, the competition between China and Taiwan for recognition destabilizes the only weakly institutionalized states and encourages endemic corruption. The substantially increased development cooperation by both Peking and Taiwan since 2006 has also met with criticism from established donor States and nongovernmental organizations. Because of its generosity and perceived freedom from conditions (“no strings attached”), it is warmly welcomed by these governments. That the cooperation is unconditional proves, however, to be deceptive, since development projects are linked to terms of delivery dictated by Beijing. Workers and materials come exclusively from China. Most of the work involves large-scale projects which benefit elite groups in urban centers. The support that is given not only lacks transparency, is inappropriate for local conditions and causes debt spending, but it also undermines longstanding efforts by previous donor countries to link development aid with responsible government. In Fiji it has also stabilized the military regime. Despite the increase in development aid from the two East Asian States, the contribution of the Western donor bloc to official development cooperation continues to be overwhelming. Thanks to the election of Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeous in May 2008 and the improved bilateral relations between Taipeh and Beijing, a partial change in a positive direction is becoming visible both on the issue of “check-book diplomacy” as well as with development cooperation. While the “truce” in their competition proclaimed by both sides offers Taiwan the chance to re-focus development cooperation on long term results and to intensify cooperation with international donors, Beijing continues to refuse to make its development aid transparent and to coordinate it with other donor countries. However, economic cooperation with Beijing may well present a major challenge for the island states. In only a few years China has evolved into a major player, but, especially in extraction of raw materials, is only one among many investors operating globally. Until now, Australia, Japan and the European Union have been able to maintain their strong sub-regional presence as trade partners of the island states. However, it is not just large Chinese corporations which are increasingly active in the South Pacific, but first and foremost illegal Chinese immigrants or immigrants of Chinese descent, too, who dominate not only the wholesale and retail trade but the service sector as well. Their strong presence is forcing local companies out of business, which leads to deep resentment and defensive reactions as borne out by the destruction of Chinese business districts in Tonga and the Solomon Islands in 2006 and the almost regularly incidence of Chinese business people being murdered in Papua New Guinea. The economic involvement of China, as well as other East Asian and Southeast Asian states, has suffered a significant loss of reputation in the region. The criticism is directed in particular at uncontrolled overfishing on a wide scale, predominantly illegal large-scale logging in the forestry sector and the use by Chinese firms of their own workers. This leads to the loss of jobs and denies locals any spin-off advantages even for low-level, menial jobs. It is obvious that economic cooperation with the island states has hardly led to the “win-win” situation promised by Beijing. This means that China’s acclaimed South- South model of cooperation (the “Beijing Consensus”) as an alternative to Western development concepts has no empirical basis. As with other economic players, self-interest stands in the foreground. The economic impetus stemming from the Asian continent and in this case especially from China will continue to be felt above all in the few States with mineral ore reserves. Currently, it is hardly possible to speak of “soft power” qualities of China comparable with those of the West. Because of its economic development path, its political ideals and its culture, the appeal of mainland China continues to be limited in the island states. For decades to come, the People’s Republic will possess even less the “hard power” for posit- II ing a realistic threat to the security architecture of the Pacific region or even to the military superiority of the U.S. To date, Beijing has no military bases in the region. For these reasons, China is far from being able to restructure the order of things in the region. There are also no known intentions on Beijing’s part of taking such a step. The “China threat” debate also fails to recognize the solidity of continuing relations with the former colonial powers. Even today, half of the 26 South Pacific States and territories are integrated into the Western metropolitan powers or enjoy associate status which guarantees them massive financial support. The current limited military capacity of the People’s Republic is also not taken into account. Regardless of this, a preventive military buildup by the US and Australia is already taking place in the Asia-Pacific region, which not only makes conflicts of interest with China inevitable in the middle term, but could also lead to an armaments spiral in the neighboring East Asian and Southeast Asian States. Pax Americana is still the indispensable framework for embedding the rise of China in the wider region. This means that Chinese-American relations remain vitally important. The rapprochement between Taipeh and Beijing, which has significantly defused the previous tensions over Taiwan, has marked out a path forward in constructive dialog. Potential conflicts can only be expected if the Chinese expectation of a stronger political leadership role in the region and the willingness of the US to make room for this cannot be brought into balance. This is true both regionally and globally.

Kurzfassung auf Deutsch:

Während die westlichen Staaten in den letzten Jahren ihre Aktivitäten im südpazifischen Raum kontinuierlich verringert haben, hat China seine diplomatische Präsenz und die Entwicklungszusammenarbeit beständig erweitert. Roland Seib sucht zunächst nach den Gründen für dieses verstärkte Engagement und macht zwei maßgebliche Faktoren aus: Zum einen galt es, zumindest in früheren Jahren, eine weitere Ausdehnung Taiwans zu verhindern und sich der Solidarität insbesondere der Entwicklungsstaaten bei Abstimmungen in internationalen Organisationen zu versichern. Der andere Faktor ist wirtschaftlicher Natur. China nutzt die südpazifischen Staaten geschickt zur eigenen Versorgung mit Rohstoffen sowie zur Sicherung von Absatzmärkten. Roland Seib überprüft den Nutzen der chinesischen Entwicklungskooperation für die Staaten und benennt heikle Folgen. Anzeichen dafür, dass China in absehbarer Zeit zu einer Bedrohung für die Sicherheitsarchitektur des südpazifischen Raums werden könnte, findet der Autor allerdings nicht. Die China Threat-Debatte entbehrt, zumindest in dieser Region, jeder soliden Grundlage und lässt die präventive militärische Aufrüstung der USA und Australiens in dieser Region in fragwürdigem Licht erscheinen.

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