Geo-strategic competition intensifying: expert

By Marc Membrere 26 October 2021, 9:50PM

The recent China-Pacific foreign ministers virtual conference and the purchase of Digicel Pacific by Australian telecommunications giant Telstra points to intensifying geo-strategic competition in the Pacific.

Dr. Denghua Zhang, a research fellow at the Australian National University, told the Samoa Observer last Thursday’s meeting between China’s Foreign Minister and his Pacific counterparts through video link as well as Telstra’s USD$1.6 billion purchase of Digicel’s Pacific holdings are examples of intensifying geo-strategic competition between China and Australia in the Pacific region.

"By hosting the first foreign ministers' meeting between China and Pacific island countries, the Chinese government was keen to assure Pacific leaders that China would continue to support the development of these small countries, even during the [COVID-19] pandemic," Dr. Zhang said in an email response.

According to Dr. Zhang, this is also part of China's efforts to maintain close relations with the Global South when its relations with the western countries remain under a strain. 

He added that the new online format for this China-Pacific foreign ministers' meeting is expected to be a new normal in the next few years.

Australia's takeover of the Digicel Pacific arm has been widely viewed as a strategic play on Australia's part as a means of blocking a Chinese-owned company from acquiring the network and giving it a possible strategic advance in the region.

"For Australia's purchase of Digicel's Pacific arm, it is not surprising in the context of the intensified geo-strategic competition between traditional development partners and China in the region," added Dr. Zhang.

Dr. Zhang said that it also shows that traditional development partners have grave concerns about China's intentions and influence in the Pacific region.

The announcement of Telstra’s purchase of Digicel Pacific was made on Monday with the Australian Government expected to foot a major portion of the USD$1.6 billion price tag. According to the ABC News, Digicel Pacific has 91 per cent of the phone and broadband market in Papua New Guinea, 65 per cent in Vanuatu, 69 per cent in Samoa, 58 per cent in Tonga, 32 per cent in Fiji and 100 per cent in Nauru.

Having worked for a decade as a former diplomat, Dr Zhang did his PhD thesis on chinese foreign policy and aid with his primary area of research being international relations, Pacific studies and Chinese foreign policy amongst others.

By Marc Membrere 26 October 2021, 9:50PM
Samoa Observer

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