China denies stoking geopolitical battle with US in Pacific

This comes after several nations rejected a sweeping trade and security deal proposed by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. PHOTO: AFP

NUKU'ALOFA, TONGA (BLOOMBERG) - Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said his country has no desire to engage in "geopolitical competition" over influence of Pacific islands nations, during his marathon tour of the region.

"China has no intention of competing with anyone, let alone engaging in geopolitical competition, and has never established a so-called sphere of influence," Mr Wang said Tuesday (May 31) after meeting Tongan Foreign Minister Fekitamoeloa Utoikamanu, according to a Chinese government readout.

He added that "some people" had attacked and tried to discredit China's engagement in the region, in an apparent veiled reference to the US and Australia, and denied Beijing was trying to deepen its military engagement in the Pacific.

Tensions between China and US allies in the Pacific have increased since Beijing said in April it had signed a security agreement with the Solomon Islands.

While the final wording of the deal hasn't been released, a leaked draft said it would allow Beijing to deploy security personnel to the Solomon Islands in the wake of domestic unrest.

Mr Wang's 10-day tour of eight Pacific countries has been seen as evidence of Beijing's growing ambitions in a region where the US and Australia are the traditional partners.

That outreach was dealt a setback Monday when several nations rejected a sweeping trade and security deal proposed by Mr Wang.

There had been signs that some Pacific nations were uneasy with China's expanding role.

Micronesian President David Panuelo had criticised Beijing's plans, warning they could spark a Cold War, Australia's ABC News reported.

Fiji joined the US in a wide-ranging economic initiative last week, making it the first Pacific Island nation to do so.

It then signed three economic pacts with China on Monday, a sign that Pacific nations may seek ways to balance relations with the world's two largest economies.

Mr Wang's visit coincided with the trip by Australia's new Foreign Minister Penny Wong to Fiji, where she pledged her country would "remain a critical development partner" with a "no strings-attached" approach, in what appeared to be a veiled jab at the Chinese government.

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