Beijing’s great game to win over Pacific’s small island states

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Micronesia’s President Peter Christian, center, reviews an honor guard with Xi Jinping outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in March 2017. Photo: AFP/ Greg Baker

 

Deploying classic tactics – leverage via investment, tourism, diplomacy and political funding – Beijing is winning the strategic competition with Washington across the west and northern Pacific

While the South China Sea is East Asia’s strategic center stage as China expands its military presence and control over that critical seascape, Beijing is quietly and successfully upping its presence in Pacific territories that have traditionally fallen under US influence.

But unlike in the South China Sea, it is not capturing influence with hard power. Instead, it is deploying a range of big-picture, long-game asymmetric tactics that will be familiar to anyone who has studied Beijing’s Belt and Road initiatives in other regions.

While the US fought its now-legendary, trans-Pacific “island hopping” campaign against Japan in many of these territories in World War II, China is today winning a new, non-kinetic war by default – for, beyond East Asian shores, the Pacific suffers from benign neglect in Washington. Continue reading

Obama to create world’s largest protected marine reserve in Pacific Ocean

President Obama will use his legal authority Thursday to create the world’s largest fully protected marine reserve in the central Pacific Ocean, demonstrating his increased willingness to advance a conservation agenda without the need for congressional approval.

By broadening the existing Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument from almost 87,000 square miles to more than 490,000 square miles, Obama has protected more acres of federal land and sea by executive power than any other president in at least 50 years and makes the area off-limits to commercial fishing.

The proclamation will mean added protections for deep-sea coral reefs and other marine ecosystems that administration officials believe are among “the most vulnerable” to the negative impacts of climate change.

While the new designation is a scaled-back version of an even more ambitious plan the administration had floated in June, it marks the 12th time Obama will have exercised his power under the 1906 Antiquities Act to protect environmental assets. The decision to continue to allow fishing around roughly half the area’s islands and atolls aims to limit any economic impact on the U.S. fishing interests. Continue reading