News

Japan Struggles to Maintain Pacific Influence as China's Might Grows

Japan is hosting a two-day summit of presidents and prime ministers of Pacific island states. The Pacific islands hold strategic attraction for many regional powers.

Japan says the aim of its fourth Pacific Island Forum Summit is to enhance sustainable development and security in the region. But, behind the scenes, there is growing competition for influence with the 14 nations that are small and remote, but hold strategic appeal to major powers.

Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman has hinted this is causing some concern in Tokyo.

"[The] Pacific island area should not be toyed around [with] by any strong power surrounding the area," he said.

The main strong power is China, which hosted its own Pacific islands summit in Fiji recently. China sees potential military and diplomatic value in the islands.

Analyst Peter Wagner of Hawaii's East-West Center on policy studies says Beijing's diplomatic agenda is closely linked to its rivalry with Taiwan.

"Taiwan wants to be recognized at the U.N. China is determined not to let that happen," he said.

The Pacific islands are home to only one percent of the world's population, but, together, they control six percent of the votes in the U.N. General Assembly.

Taiwan, which has been ruled separately since the Chinese civil war ended in 1949, has used its economic might to win diplomatic recognition from a few dozen small and poor nations, including, for example, the Solomon Islands. China wants to roll back all diplomatic recognition for Taiwan, which it sees as a renegade province.

But, beyond this issue, China's growing military is looking to extend its sphere of influence.

And these Pacific micro-states have geographical importance for any powerful navy. They comprise thousands of mostly uninhabited islands, spread over 30 million square kilometers, covering a quarter of the Earth's surface.

The U.S. military is also concerned over China's rising diplomatic and military influence in the Pacific.

"We watch all the militaries in the region very closely," said Lieutenant General Bruce Wright, the commander of U.S. Forces in Japan. "We have seen - and the report just came out of the Pentagon - an increased modernization of Chinese military forces, and, certainly, we have seen some growth in the funding of Chinese military forces."

East Asia expert Kent Calder, with Johns Hopkins University in the United States, says the world may be about to witness a new version of the so-called Great Game, when the British Empire competed with Imperial Russia in the 19th century.

He sees China, with submarine-launched ballistic missiles, known as SLBMs, moving from a defensive posture, known as brown water, to project its military into the blue water of the mid-Pacific and Indian Oceans.

"We do indeed have a Great Game that extends far beyond the region," he said. "From a strategic point of view, over time, as China's SLBM program  expands, or its navy moves beyond brown water to something greater, relations with the Pacific islands will be [increasingly] important."

An official of the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo, who did not want to be named, told VOA that such concerns are unfounded. He says reports of China planning a deep-water navy are rumors being spread by the U.S. and Indian militaries.

Some experts suggest China is just looking to fill a gap created by Japan and the United States, which have been cutting back aid to the Pacific Islands.


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs