Paul Maley, in The Australian,18 June 2018, where the title is “China can’t be allowed to expand it’s influence in Pacific”
Australia cannot make the same mistakes in the Pacific that it made in the South China Sea, where Beijing militarised the area quickly and without serious challenge. China was successful because it moved incrementally and with a finely judged sense of risk. Sand was dredged, islands were created, runways were built, and, lastly, weapon systems were deployed. Individually none of these measures warranted much more than mild protest, but collectively they changed the strategic balance in the region.
There are signs a similar process is under way in the Pacific. I say “similar’’ because, whereas China’s activities in the South China Sea were unlawful, its duchessing of sovereign governments is not, even if it’s not in Australia’s interests. Also, the South China Sea is on China’s doorstep, an area China seeks to control. There are more than 80,000 US troops stationed in Japan, South Korea and Guam. That’s much closer to China than Vanuatu is to Australia.
But there are growing signs China is seeking to expand its influence into our region in a way inimical to our interests.
Chinese aid to the Pacific has grown significantly. A plan for Chinese telco Huawei to lay an underwater cable connecting the Solomon Islands to the Australian mainland had to be kyboshed amid fears it could give Beijing’s cyber-spies an entry point into Australia’s communication systems. And last month there were reports — denied by both sides — that China was in talks with Vanuatu about establishing some kind of military presence.
Australia must resist this. As China’s economic and political might grows we must work with allies, perhaps co-ordinating aid and development programs to help the developing Pacific states resist the honey-trap of Chinese debt. And any move to establish a permanent military presence in the Pacific must be resisted.
The danger is that we will overshoot, casting Beijing as the enemy. It is not. But Australia must be prepared to draw boundaries around its interests and protect them with the same determination Beijing uses to protect its.