Experienced diplomats assigned to the Pacific, report says

China has increased its diplomatic presence and is deeply involved in regional organisations in the Pacific.

That’s what the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission staff research report says.

For several of these organisations, China provides funding and other support even if it is not a member or observer, the report says.

Since 2007, China has had a senior Chinese diplomat serving as its special envoy to the Pacific Islands Forum Post Forum Dialogue, the only multilateral organisation that includes all Pacific Island countries and allows outside countries’ participation. 

The special envoy has represented China at each of the Post Forum Dialogues held since 2007 and regularly attends bilateral meetings and other events in the region. 

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According to the report, Chinese government presence before President Xi Jinping was “negligible”. 

“Now experienced diplomats are being assigned to embassies in the region; however, personal levels remain inadequate to coordinate the high volume of aid projects, often leaving Chinese companies and their local partners in control,” the report reads. 

The report also notes Chinese tourists travelling increasing in numbers to the Pacific Islands where tourism is the backbone of most of their economy. 

China has been among the fastest-growing countries in terms of the number of tourists visiting the region, said the report, with “Beijing’s eight diplomatic partners and Palau*—to which Chinese tourist groups are allowed to visit—Chinese visitors grew by an average of 27 percent per year between 2009 and 2014”.

However, the number of Chinese tourists remains modest compared with foreign visitors from Australia and New Zealand.

But in the long term, China is likely to continue expanding its tourism footprint in the region with the World Bank estimating Chinese visitors to the 11 World Bank members in the region to grow at 20 percent per year reaching 965,000 visitors by 2040.

“Chinese tourism in the region is concentrated in Palau and Fiji, which together make up 80 percent of all Chinese inbound arrivals. In 2017, Chinese tourism fell by about 5 percent across the region, due in large part to the reduction in Chinese tourism to Palau where it dropped by 11 percent,” said the report. 

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