China’s willingness toward economic prosperity of Pacific nations has again been seriously questioned by the Pacific leaders as they outrightly rejected China’s draft ‘security agreement’.

Even the tiny Pacific nations are now more united against the malign intention of China. China’s unjust historical claims over all the islands of the South China Sea compelled Pacific nations to unite and stand up for their existence against the climate threat.

China wanted to make a “trade and security” deal with ten Pacific nations and they all walk away from making the deal while meeting between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his counterparts in Fiji on 26 May 2022. Contrary to acquiescence, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) President David Panuelo sent a letter to 21 Pacific leaders to reject a “pre-determined joint communique” citing it could initiate a new “Cold War” between China and the West.

The timing for China’s proposed deal also was crucial. The proposal was sent just after the Quad summit in Tokyo where the Quad took a firm strategy to address climate security. Also, Australia’s new labor Prime Minister took an oath just two days back having less time before taking a consensus decision for the Pacific nations.

China’s intention for the economic uplift for only 2.3 million people living in Pacific Island countries sounds like crocodile tears. It doesn’t commensurate with its goodwill while China imposed tourism sanctions in Palau for supporting Taiwan.

The Pacific islands’ lands spread over 3.5 million square kilometers of the South-West Pacific Ocean which is an area larger than India. This would be a vital interest of China. China has already militarized and made seabasing facilities on many islands in the South China Sea. Further away from home, China wished to expand its similar facilities.

It doesn’t need great strategists to understand these simple geopolitics. So, did the pacific leaders.  Although economic developments are the central issue of Pacific nations, their great concern, right now, is climate security. Most of these islands fear drowning due to sea-level rise.

Climate security became so concerning to these nations that Vanuatu went to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to issue an opinion on the present and future generations’ right to be protected from climate change in 2021 to showcase before the November’s COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland. Although the opinions of ICJ are not legally binding for the UN, they could help the powerful nations in understanding the gravity of climate action.

It may be mentioned that China remains the highest Carbon dioxide (CO2) emitter (9.9 billion metric tons per year, which is 28%) followed by the USA (15%) and then India (7%). Due to a lack of commitments among these countries on the climate issue, the COP26 couldn’t take a consensus view to keep the global warming level to 1.5 °C.

After the failed COP26, the Pacific nations became hopeless. They desperately needed a world power to address their concern. Naturally, their expectations were more from Australia due to proximity.

Amidst these uncertainties, cohesiveness among themselves started weaning slowly. Taking this opportunity, China, in April 2022, made a security cooperation agreement with the Solomon Islands where the USA and Australia became very aware of security in the Pacific region.

The entente between the Solomon Islands and China needs careful consideration.  Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s dudgeon against Australia is noteworthy. It could be a stark reminder that the islanders did not forget the “white Australia” deported the black Solomon islanders from Queensland in 1904 who used to start working in the sugar plantation in the 1870s.

It appears that Solomon’s Prime Minister is not happy with Australia despite Australia’s pledge to establish an Australia Pacific Defence School to train the Pacific Island defence and security force, and also help deter illegal fishing and transnational crime through more support for Australia’s Pacific Maritime Security Program.

The new government in Australia now has the opportunity to woo the islanders by addressing the crucial climate change response. The newly elected Labor Party came to power by peoples’ mandate promising to cut carbon emissions by 43% by 2030 which has been reiterated by Australian new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in the Quad summit in Tokyo on 25 May 2022.

He also said, “We will act in recognition that climate change is the main economic and security challenge for the island countries of the Pacific”.

Pacific nations would be expecting the Albanese’s promise to come into force, and who knows, this could have acted as a means for the Pacific leaders to reject China’s “trade and security” deal.

As the Pacific leaders walked away from China’s deal, it paved the way for Australia along with the USA to address their core concerns before it’s too late. Various programs by the Australian government and other agencies are needed to raise climate response awareness by engaging the Pacific islanders.

Australia’s economic help, working opportunities in Australia, prospect for the Pacific people to migrate to Australia, and above all, democratic values put Australia in a much better and advantageous position compared to China. Only thing is to address the right concerns of islanders.