China's defiant message after controversial Pacific deal shelved

China does not believe its controversial and sweeping South Pacific security deal is dead in the water just yet, suggesting a "final agreement" could come in the near future.

Pacific Island nations have walked away from the proposed deal after Beijing sought what is understood to be a similar deal with a further 10 countries after it penned a security pact with the Solomon Islands, which sent shockwaves through Australia.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi had stressed there would be "no political strings attached" to any deal, yet it was widely seen as a continuation of Beijing's strategic push to reshape the region.

When pressed on news the deal had failed to materialise, China's foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian appeared optimistic about his country's proposal, stressing the two sides had been "united" during meetings.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi has failed to lure Pacific nations into signing its wide-ranging trade and security deal. Source: Google Maps/ Getty
Foreign Minister Wang Yi has failed to lure Pacific nations into signing its wide-ranging trade and security deal. Source: Google Maps/ Getty

"[The proposed deal] involves an ongoing process of discussion. Not every meeting has to issue a joint document," Mr Zhao told reporters.

"All parties reached new consensus on this, making an important step towards reaching the final agreement. The parties agreed to continue to engage in active and practical discussions in order to build more consensus. "

Beijing's ambitions for wider security ties have caused concern in Australia, the US and other allies, however Mr Wang urged the region not to be "too anxious" over China's intent.

Yet in response to Beijing's push for alliances in the Pacific, which is being touted as a potential trigger for a new Cold War era between China and the West, Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama did not mince his words.

"Geopolitical point-scoring means less than little to anyone whose community is slipping beneath the rising seas, whose job is being lost to the pandemic, or whose family is impacted by the rapid rise in the price of commodities," he told reporters.

The wide-ranging regional deal, leaked last week, covered free trade and security cooperations, including areas such as police training, cyber security, maritime mapping and resource access.

It prompted concern from within the Pacific that the region would be signing its sovereignty away, and the speed at which China acted meant many nations were not given adequate time to fully comprehend the implications of such a deal.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong, who also visited Fiji last week to remind the region of Australia's commitment to the region, said Australia would work alongside Pacific nations on security challenges.

Mr Wang said China will instead release a position paper following Monday's virtual meeting. He will next visit on Tuesday.

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