The United States has made a big diplomatic move to kick China out of the Pacific Island region stretching from Easter Island in the East to Hawaii in the North to New Caledonia and Palau in the west to Tonga in the South. Till now, the Pacific Islands region was becoming a venue of strategic competition between Beijing and Taipei. But now the US is also getting more and more involved in the region.
The Trump administration has pledged 25 million US Dollars in aid to Malaita- a pro-Taiwan province in the Solomon Islands. Malaita has actually been at loggerheads with the Solomon Islands administration itself, ever since the Solomon Islands government severed ties with Taiwan and established diplomatic ties with China. The US aid is crucial and carries a very important from Washington- Pacific Island countries will have to support Taiwan if they want US aid.
The level of American aid is rather overwhelming here. The US aid pledge to Malaita is 50 times more than the aid that this province in the Solomon Islands received from all the countries combined in 2018. The White House is not just pledging aid to Malaita, but also rewarding it for taking a pro Taiwan stand at a time when the Solomon Islands administration switched loyalties and chose China over Taiwan.
Dr Terence Wood, a researcher with Australia National University’s Development Policy Centre said, “It’s either a remarkable coincidence for some reason, someone in the US State Department has suddenly found Malaita on the map, or much more likely, it’s got a lot to do with geopolitics”.
The United States aid to Malaita is also a soft signal to the Solomon Islands. Washington is suggesting that the Solomon Islands may have chosen China over Taiwan, due to the bait of Chinese investments. But now the Pacific Island country must realise that it will lose out on massive American aid that is likely to fall in hands of pro-Taiwan players in the Pacific Islands region.
And then the Solomon Islands is not the only Pacific Island nation that has something to learn out of American aid to Malaita. Even others like Kiribati who have cut ties with Taiwan and have established formal, diplomatic ties with Beijing will also understand that there is a lot of American money on offer if they continue supporting a democratic Taiwan over a Communist-Authoritarian China.
In fact, the US considers the Pacific Islands region an important part of its broader Indo-Pacific policy. This year, the US has pledged aid of more than 200 million US Dollars to the Pacific Islands.
But here is the real deal- the massive American aid to Malaita proves that the bulk of generous US aid will ultimately fall in hands of countries that continue to support Taiwan’s status as an independent nation. And this could as well turn the tables against China in the Pacific Islands.
Till now, it seemed as if Beijing would gain predatory control of the Pacific Islands. The region has traditionally been a venue of strategic competition between China and Taiwan. Of late, the regional rivalry between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China was becoming an asymmetric game, owing to the paper dragon’s growing size.
But by giving massive aid to a pro-Taiwan Malaita, the US has altered the geostrategic equations in the Pacific Islands drastically. China is no longer the bigger giant when it comes to making a diplomatic outreach into the Pacific Islands. Now that a bigger giant- the US is making diplomatic manoeuvres in the Pacific Islands, those who had chosen Taiwan over China or are considering to do so will have to make a strategic reassessment.
The future competition in the Pacific Islands might no longer be defined as China versus Taiwan, but as China versus US plus Taiwan. With this clear message, the US is now all set to kick China out of the Pacific Islands.