Saturday, February 13, 2010

Increased US-China Rivalry Impacts Pacific

Dr Paul Buchanan’s Word From Afar columns on Scoop

13 February 2010

International relations and security analyst Dr Paul Buchanan has warned of increased militarisation in the Western Pacific Rim states and the erosion of accountable government as the United States-China struggle for global power intensifies.

In a public lecture hosted by AUT University’s Pacific Media Centre last night, Dr Buchanan, author of the forthcoming book Security Politics in Peripheral Democracies, said China’s international development strategy was to use “both investment power and arms sales” to gain allies in the Western Pacific Rim region, and to “raise the cost for the US to keep their pre-eminence”.

According to Dr Buchanan, a columnist for Scoop, China is now the second largest source of foreign aid to the Pacific, after Australia.

Recent Chinese development projects in the region include an estimated TOP$120 million soft loan to Tonga, to assist in rebuilding the capital after the November 2006 riot, as well as providing FJD$240 million for rural development in Fiji last year.

China’s biggest Pacific investment is the USD$1 billion Ramu nickel mine in Papua New Guinea.

Besides the interest in the South Pacific’s natural resources, Buchanan added that militarily, the emerging superpower was also “pushing sub fleets further and further into the Pacific”.

In a commentary published in the Samoan Observer, Dr Buchanan estimated that in less than two decades a “three island chain” Chinese naval strategy would see its permanent naval presence stretching from the Aleutians through the Mariana Islands to the east coast of Papua New Guinea.

By 2050, the reach will extend to include waters offshore of New Zealand and Australia.

While other commentators, such as Auckland University’s Dr Jian Yang, remain sceptical about China’s military agenda in the Pacific, arguing that the Asian interest is purely economical, the increasing Chinese influence in the region has become a key focus for political observers.

In terms of a global impact, Dr Buchanan said Chinese involvement in the region would help develop the island economies.

But it was important to strengthen local democracies and promote good governance to prevent island nations from becoming “failed states”.

Armed conflicts on cards

In comparison, Dr Buchanan’s presentation on the neighbouring region of South-East Asia showed a markedly higher threat of conflict.

“What isn’t written about is that throughout East Asia, every country in the region is spending more than 3 percent of their national income on rearmament,” said Dr Buchanan, formerly a visiting associate professor at the National University of Singapore.

He emphasised a growing trend of “traditional inter-state rivalries” among South East Asian countries, which were increasingly looking towards China as an arms supplier.

Examples he cited were the territorial dispute between Burma and Cambodia, and Malaysia trying to “pick a fight” with Singapore over the latter’s offensive military capacity.

“Within 10 years, one or more of these rivalries will result in open war,” Buchanan estimated.

He said that “façade democracies” were dominated by local elites, and Western Pacific Rim policies were steadily shaped by an arms race between major players.

Josephine Latu is a postgraduate communication studies student from Tonga who is contributing editor of Pacific Media Watch.

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