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Pacific Forum looks to unity in the face of China-Taiwan rivalry

Suva- China is an important economic partner in the Pacific and would be most welcome to contribute in the Pacific Island Forum countries, according to Secretary General Dame Meg Taylor.

In the past decade Beijing has boosted its presence in the region and for Dame Meg, this should not be seen as a barrier against other Pacific allies.

Six Pacific countries maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan – Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, the Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu. Palau, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia and Nauru have called on the Forum to recognize Taiwan and China as equals at its meetings.

Speaking to journalists ahead of the Forum Economic Ministers’ meeting Dame Meg expressed concern about the impact of outside powers, without naming any names. ”What I am most anxious about in the region is ..what has happened with the influence of certain governments trying to focus on some countries, not other countries. Influencing some countries and not thinking. Dividing the collection,” she said.

Dame Meg said the region had a long and proud history of working together for a region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion and prosperity, “Holding the collective together is a big challenge,” Dame Meg said.

As a result of Beijing’s ‘One China’ Policy Taiwan is not able to join other development partners at their annual meeting with Pacific leaders. Instead it holds a separate meeting for the six countries it has diplomatic ties with. Dame Meg raised the possibility of a new way of working with China.

She noted that at the APEC meeting in Papua New Guinea last year China, Chinese Hong Kong and Taipei (Taiwan) were able to sit alongside each other in discussions with APEC member nations - because APEC is an economic forum.

Dame Meg suggested this model might work in the Pacific. “China is a development partner of the Forum so when we have the Pacific island leaders meeting, China is part of the discussions at the Forum, but in the Forum you’ve got six countries that recognize Taiwan and the others that recognize China. So if we are going to have a discussion, let’s have it as economies not a political relationship but an economic relationship,” Dame Taylor said.

Sandra Tarte, University of the South Pacific Head of School and Director, Politics and International Affairs, told reporters ahead of the FEMM that China is now the second largest aid donor to Pacific island nations, behind Australia but ahead of New Zealand and Japan.

As the nations gear up for the establishment of the Pacific Resilience Facility (PRF), infrastructure initiatives that been announced by Japan, Australia and the US in response to China’s growing influence could be better used if channeled through the PRF.Under the PRF, Pacific nations will be the ones to assess who gets the funding without external influences. The new Pacific climate fund will focus on investments on climate change preparedness rather than on post-disaster relief and recovery.

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