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Beijing has intensified its campaign to isolate Taiwan in the Pacific, pressing for the region's peak diplomatic body to formally embrace a One China policy.
Sources from two Pacific Island nations say Chinese officials have tried to convince them the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) should accept that the Chinese Communist Party is the rightful government of both the mainland and Taiwan.
The move is inflammatory because the Pacific remains one of Taiwan's last bastions of diplomatic support, with six nations in the region — Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Tuvalu and Palau — recognising Taipei rather than Beijing.
Taiwan donates large amounts of aid to these countries, and works hard to cultivate relationships with their political leaders.
But China has been intent on prising off Taiwan's remaining allies around the globe.
In the past two years, both the Dominican Republic and Panama abandoned Taipei after China offered them hefty loan and investment packages.
And last year it effectively banned Chinese tourists from travelling to Palau in a move widely interpreted as an attempt to ramp up economic pressure on the tiny nation.
There has also been speculation the current governing party in Solomon Islands might switch its loyalties to Beijing after elections in April — although party leaders have played down that prospect.
If PIF were to adopt a One China policy it would be a powerful symbolic blow against Taiwan.
But Graeme Smith from the Australian National University said PIF was “extremely unlikely” to bend to China's demand.
“I think this kind of pressure is counter-productive, it's pretty likely to get Pacific states who recognise Taiwan to dig in,” he said.
“But this is also to send a message to the six allies of Taiwan that we are putting pressure on and it's in your interests to come around.”
The Pacific officials lobbied by China asked not to be identified because they did not want to damage diplomatic ties with Beijing.
But both said China had been targeting other Pacific nations on the issue, and had probably pressed its case with the Secretariat of the Pacific Islands Forum.
A PIF spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the forum had been directly lobbied on the issue, but referred the ABC to the peak body's current position, which recognises some of its member states have relationships with China, while others have ties with Taiwan.
The intensifying strategic competition in the Pacific has created some unease within the organisation, which risks being sidelined as major players focus on building bilateral relationships.
Last week PIF Secretary-General Dame Meg Taylor said China's growing presence in the region opened up new opportunities for Pacific nations.
“To a large extent, Forum Island countries have been excluded from the sorts of financing, technology and infrastructure that can enable us to fully engage in a globalised world,” she said.
But Dame Meg urged Pacific nations to work together to deal with larger countries, suggesting Pacific Island nations consider establishing a new formal dialogue between PIF and China.
“We are seeing offers and counter-offers by our partners,” she said.
“Perhaps the key challenge facing the Blue Pacific is our ability to think through these opportunities as a collective rather than only considering bilateral gains,” Dame Meg said
Pacific Islands News Association
Who & What is PINA?
International News Safety Institute (INSI)
Media Helping Media