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David Fickling

China Has Yet to Learn the Rules of the Pacific Chess Game

Island nations have grown skilled at playing larger powers against each other. This leverage will be important as they face the existential threat of global warming.

Rising sea levels are a constant threat.

Rising sea levels are a constant threat.

Photographer: Mario Tama/Getty Images

China’s growing influence in the microstates of the Pacific Ocean has raised alarm among the powers that traditionally dominated the region — Australia, New Zealand, and the US. If they want to halt Beijing’s advance, they’re going to have to start offering more in return.

A security pact with the Solomon Islands earlier this year first showed the scope of Beijing’s ambitions, permitting China’s police and military to operate in the country. Similar deals were offered to a group of 10 countries alongside a visit by Foreign Minister Wang Yi in May. Wang is now seeking a meeting with foreign ministers of the island countries at the same time that leaders assemble in July for the annual Pacific Islands Forum, the main multilateral body for the region.