Importance of Pacific Islands Countries (PICs)
Recently, anxious about the Chinese aims, the 10 Pacific Island Nations failed to reach an agreement on the draft trade and security communique proposed by China.
But, China has steadily strengthened its engagement with the region both on the economics and security front. e.g., the value of Pacific Island nations’ trade with China overtook their trade with Australia.
Additionally, the Solomon Islands signed a security agreement with China that will allow China to send its police/security personnel and as well as permit Chinese naval ships to use island ports.
Pacific Island Countries (PICs): a group of 14 states located primarily in the Pacific Ocean’s tropical zone between Asia, Australia, and the Americas. The islands are very small in land area and are spread out across the vast equatorial Pacific Ocean.
They include Fiji, Cook Islands, Republic of Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.
Strategic Importance of PICs:
- It has enormous economic potential due to the availability of a wealth of fisheries, energy, minerals, and other marine resources in such zones.
- These countries have played an essential role in power rivalry. The major powers of the colonial era competed with each other to gain control over these strategic nations. During World War II, The Pacific islands also acted as one of the major theaters of conflict.
- Some of the U.S, The U.K., and France nuclear weapon test sites were located here.
- The 14 PICs act as a potential vote bank for major powers to mobilize international opinion in the United Nations.
These islands lie in the natural line of the expansion of China’s maritime interest and naval power. When the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue(QUAD) emerged as a major force in the Indo-Pacific vis-à-vis China, the need to influence the PICs became an even more pressing matter for China.
Also, the Taiwan factor plays a major role in China’s Pacific calculus. China, which considers Taiwan a breakaway territory, is preparing for what seems like an inevitable military invasion. In this context, it becomes essential to break Western domination of island chains of the Pacific that could obstruct reunification. Keeping the PICs away from the West and Taiwan will make China’s goal of Taiwan reunification easier to achieve.
China has gained diplomatic recognition from ten of the fourteen PICs through its economic generosity. Only four PICs — Tuvalu, Palau, Marshall Islands, and Nauru, currently recognize Taiwan.
The increased intensity of China’s diplomacy toward the Pacific Islands has made countries such as the United States and Australia more cautious. Since the China-Solomon Islands agreement, the United States has begun to reconsider its diplomatic priorities for the region.