NUKU’ALOFA—Japanese, U.S. and Australian defense authorities are increasingly wary over China’s moves to develop port facilities in island countries in the Pacific Ocean amid concern that those facilities could become Chinese Navy footholds in the future.
Military vessels can dock
In late July, a 1,900-ton patrol ship from New Zealand was anchored at Vuna Wharf in Nuku’alofa, the capital of Tonga. The wharf for large passenger ferries was developed with full support from China. The pier is about 120 meters long and the sea is about 20 meters deep, making the wharf big enough to accommodate warships.
…In Tonga, Chinese financial support is also used to repair roads, downtown areas and even the king’s palace. Beijing offered a loan totaling about ¥6.2 billion to develop infrastructure, including reconstruction of Vuna Wharf, from 2009 to 2012. From 2011 to 2013, China provided another loan worth about ¥4.7 billion to repair roads, bringing total loans to the country from China to about ¥10.9 billion.
According to the International Monetary Fund, China’s loans to Tonga account for about 30 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
An Australian military source said China is trying to shift Tonga over to its side with such support and could make this wharf a foothold for its military vessels.
Chinese winning port bids
Authorities of Papua Province, east Indonesia, said a Chinese company purchased part of a fishing port in Merauke in the province, which borders Papua New Guinea. Chinese fishing boats have exclusive use of the port and a plan to expand the facilities is under discussion.
China has started using ports in the South Pacific over which it exerts considerable influence. In time for a meeting of foreign ministers from China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations members, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin announced in late August that China will provide funds totaling 3 billion yuan, or about ¥47 billion, to help develop fishing bases and harbor cities in ASEAN countries.
Another ‘string of pearls’ eyed
If the United States and its allies block key sea lanes, China wants to secure alternative sea routes linking the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean, a source familiar with Japan-U.S. alliance affairs said regarding China’s recent activity.
In a time of emergency against the United States, China may use the South Pacific Ocean as a remote area that could threaten the U.S. military, which carries out operations in Asia from its territorial island of Guam, and its military bases.
Beijing appears to have made efforts to establish another “string of pearls” in the Pacific Ocean, where the United States has been a hegemonic power.
Full article: S. Pacific ‘Chinese ports’ cause worry / Japan, U.S., Australia wary of ‘footholds’ (The Japan Times)