A Chinese military vessel is touring the contested South China Sea and beyond to meet foreign peers and train its own sailors, spreading goodwill while tightening its claim to a disputed sea and disrupting Australia’s traditional sphere of influence.
Beijing has upset a swathe of Asia since 2010 by landfilling small islets in the contested South China Sea for military use. Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines all overlap China’s claim to the 3.5 million-square-kilometer waterway. China calls about 90% of the sea its own.
The naval training ship Qi Jiguang set out in late September on a two-month tour for training and visits to foreign countries, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s China Military news service says. Brunei, East Timor, Fiji, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea were on the map for the ship’s training-and-visit mission, its second since being commissioned in 2017.
Taiwan urgently calls support on CHINA
Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, lashed out at China on Monday, for poaching the island’s Pacific allies, warning countries in the region of Beijing’s attempt to turn the Pacific into another South China Sea, where militarization by the Chinese government troubles its neighbors.
Officials from the Taiwanese government and their U.S. counterparts joined together in Taipei on Monday for the inaugural Pacific Island Dialogue. The event was co-hosted by the American Institute in Taiwan
Since the Solomon Islands and Kiribati switched diplomatic ties to China in September, the dialogue was considered a new platform for the Taiwanese and American authorities to discuss ways to strengthen cooperation and retain Taiwan’s allies and presence in the region.
“I am here today representing President Trump and Secretary Pompeo to kick off this inaugural dialogue,” remarked Sandra Oudkirk, U.S. deputy assistant secretary for Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. Taking up the post in July, Oudkirk leads a delegation that includes Daniel Delk, director of the Office of Taiwan Coordination under the U.S. Department of State, and Sean Callahan, USAID Regional Coordinator for the Pacific Islands and Mongolia.
The deputy assistant secretary affirmed the U.S.’s commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific achieved through transparency and rule-based order while criticizing the debt-trap development model that China has utilized to expand its influence in the region. “Development financing should not result in unsustainable debt,” said Oudkirk. “Recipients of financing and development assistance should be assured of their partners’ commitment to seeing all aspects of their societies flourish,” she said.
“I certainly don’t want to see the Pacific turned into another South China Sea, with us one day all sighing that it is too late for us to do anything,” said the foreign minister