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Pacific thrusts and parries

September 27, 2021

A friend living on a nearby island pointed me to this story on how China has expanded its influence in Tonga, in a pattern it is following elsewhere in the Pacific.

The palangi partied or preached, but the Chinese — at least as far as I could see — did neither. So I accepted then and there that the Chinese would, in any battle of wits or money or general grit, beat out the Westerners in Tonga.

And not just in the Pacific. Also in Africa. Also in Latin America.

SomeIslandInPacificOf course, large, richer nations always have influenced smaller, poorer ones. It is not yet clear that China’s efforts in that are yet any worse than the UK’s or US’s in times previous.

China now is applying for membership in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The US pulled out of that in 2017. The other nations participating clearly benefit from a larger economy joining. And that nation then gains Pacific influence. In some more ideal world, the US would have been a member, would have pushed for terms that provided more environmental and labor protection, and would now be in a position to negotiate on China’s inclusion. Note that we might want that. But on particular terms.

Taiwan wants to join separately. That creates quite a diplomatic issue for the nations already members. If the US lobbies on that, it is doing so from a position of weakness, as a nation that already has snubbed the pact.

The US is exploring a four-way alliance with Australia, Japan, and India — the Quad — likely to exert more influence over the Pacific and provide some counter to China.

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