A senior US State Department official visiting Australia accused China of destabilizing the Pacific, seeking to eliminate Taiwan's allies in the region.
- Six of Taipei's remaining allies are the Pacific Island countries
- There is speculation that the Solomon Islands may soon change loyalty to Beijing
- Australian strategists continue to fear that China intends to establish a naval base in the South Pacific
W Patrick Murphy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of East Asia and Pacific Affairs, was in Canberra for meetings with senior Australian officials.
Both Australia and the United States have intensified efforts to consolidate their influence in the region as China widens ties with several Pacific island nations and pours money into major infrastructure projects.
But there was also a tug of war in the Pacific between China and Taiwan, which Beijing sees as a rebel province.
Murphy said China intends to reward allies off Taiwan, which has fueled tensions in several countries.
"It's kind of a heavy hand, countries should be able to make their own independent choices of their partners and do it based on domestic ingredients, not foreign influence," he said.
"Our encouragement to countries that have relations with Taiwan is to maintain the status quo. It has contributed to stability, particularly across the Taiwan Strait, and to economic prosperity for all concerned."
Six of Taipei's remaining allies are Pacific Island countries, but there is intense speculation that its biggest ally in the region – Solomon Islands – may soon change loyalty to Beijing.
Solomon Islands politicians have called for the new Prime Minister to abandon Taiwan for China.
Others said they warned Taiwan that they will lose their support unless they pour more money into a controversial scheme that allows local MPs to channel money directly to their constituencies.
The United States has courted allies in the region such as Papua New Guinea. (AP: Mark Schiefelbein)
Australian strategists continue to fear that China intends to establish a naval base in the South Pacific, although last year Vanuatu furiously denied having had preliminary talks with Beijing on the establishment of a permanent Chinese military presence on the ;island.
Mr. Murphy would not have been attracted to the fact that he thought it was a probable prospect, but he stated that the "concept" of China establishing a base in the region was "quite problematic".
There was also an intense debate in the Pacific that some countries had unsustainable loans from China.
The United States ambassador to Australia Arthur Culvahouse Jr sparked controversy when he accused China of "payday loan" diplomacy.
Multilateral organizations such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank hold far more debt in the Pacific than China – but the United States points out that Beijing has used predatory lending tactics in several other countries, including Sri Lanka and Cambodia.
Murphy said that China has a "role to play" in the Pacific, but had to adhere to the rule of law and ensure that it was not promoting corruption.
The United States wanted "to help countries protect their sovereignty and independence, to have viable alternatives and options to meet their development needs (e) their infrastructure needs".
Last year the United States joined Australia, New Zealand and Japan in an ambitious project to bring electricity to 70% of Papua New Guinea by 2030.
Australia also plans to invest up to $ 3 billion in infrastructure projects in the Pacific through loans and grants.
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