Competition between the US and China is escalating in the Pacific, with both rushing to cement their influence. They have reached out to Pacific nations, offering loans, security aid and development assistance. The stakes rose in April when the Solomon Islands signed a security accord with the Chinese government, Beijing’s first such deal in the region. Since then Australia and China have ramped up diplomacy. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made a rare eight-day trip to the region in May while Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong visited the Pacific four times in two months.
The Pacific is the world’s largest ocean and borders the US, Japan, Russia and Chile. But the term “Pacific nations” usually refers to islands mostly found around or below the equator. There are about 14 independent Pacific nations, all of which are relatively small. Only one, Papua New Guinea, has a population above one million while most are smaller than 10,000 square miles (25,900 square kilometers). Larger ones include Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Samoa and Kiribati. The combined gross domestic product of all Pacific independent nations is about the same as that of Vermont.