Mis­placed fears

Cape Times - - OPINION -

WHEN Pa­pua New Guinean Prime Min­is­ter Peter O’Neill, dur­ing a visit to Fiji on Mon­day, men­tioned China’s plan for a sum­mit of Pa­cific is­land lead­ers later this year, it no doubt never en­tered his mind that it could spark such a fire storm in Aus­tralia and New Zealand.

In an ad­dress to Fiji’s par­lia­ment, O’Neill said Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping wishes to hold a meet­ing in Pa­pua New Guinea ahead of the Asia-Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co-op­er­a­tion Fo­rum to be held in Port Moresby in Novem­ber. This caused con­ster­na­tion in Aus­tralia and New Zealand, with New Zealand’s Act­ing Prime Min­is­ter, Win­ston Peters, warn­ing of ris­ing geopo­lit­i­cal ten­sions as a re­sult of Bei­jing’s at­tempt to fill what he said was a “vac­uum” in the re­gion. But Aus­tralia and New Zealand should not over-in­ter­pret China’s plan for a sum­mit with lead­ers from Pa­cific is­land coun­tries which have diplo­matic ties with China.

Pa­pua New Guinea, as host to this year’s Asi­aPa­cific Eco­nomic Co-op­er­a­tion Eco­nomic Lead­ers’ Meet­ing, will nat­u­rally be a venue for mul­ti­lat­eral diplo­macy for par­tic­i­pat­ing coun­tries. Rather than hit­ting the panic but­ton, the two big­gest coun­tries in Ocea­nia should re­flect on their own per­cep­tions and poli­cies as set out in their re­spec­tive de­fence pa­pers, as these re­veal how out of step they are with the times. They should also re­con­sider their poli­cies to­wards Pa­cific is­land coun­tries.

If there is a po­lit­i­cal vac­uum, it is be­cause Aus­tralia and New Zealand have for too long leaned on the United States with­out mak­ing com­mit­ments to im­prov­ing the well-be­ing of the is­land na­tions, which Can­berra and Welling­ton seem to dis­miss as their own back­yard. In­stead of bleat­ing about China’s grow­ing in­flu­ence, Aus­tralia and New Zealand should join hands with China to usher in a bet­ter fu­ture for their smaller Pa­cific neigh­bours.

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