Conducting joint drills in Fiji, US turns South Pacific into battleground to compete with China

Global Times, September 22, 2022 — Since China confirmed the official signing of a security pact with the Solomon Islands in April, the US and its close allies have significantly ramped up their engagement with the South Pacific, such as launching a diplomatic offensive and holding joint military exercises there. The South Pacific Ocean seems to have become another of US’ important battleground in its game with China.

The US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji have been holding joint military exercises in Fiji since September 12, and this is set to conclude on Friday. Some US and Western media outlets see the drills as an effort to counter China’s influence in the region.

The four Anglo-Saxon countries intend to demonstrate their strategic unity in the South Pacific by conducting joint drills. They attempt to strengthen their alliance in terms of maritime power, in a bid to gain a favorable position in competing with China in the region.

Fiji is located at the center of the South Pacific, and lies close to the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, the two countries where some Western countries groundlessly spread rumors that China is seeking to establish military bases. Their joint exercises serve as a signal to China and regional countries in the South Pacific.

The exercises are called “Cartwheel,” a name originating from Operation Cartwheel during WWII, in which the US fought along the militaries of Australia, New Zealand and Fiji – then a British colony – to neutralize the Japanese base at Rabaul in Papua New Guinea, ABC News reported, citing US Navy Commander Victor Lange.

Xu Shanpin, an adjunct research fellow at the China University of Mining and Technology, told Global Times that by giving the drills such a name, the US wants to send a message to regional countries and China that as victory powers in the Pacific War, the US and its close allies still maintain maritime hegemony and political dominance in the South Pacific, and still have the capability and willingness to carry out joint operations. Seemingly, they hope the name can deter China from repeating Japan’s mistakes.

These days, the South Pacific has become the spotlight that’s drawing much of Washington’s attention to compete with Beijing. The US has mobilized its alliance system to suppress China in military and attacks China in discourse. It framed China as a security threat in the South Pacific region in its diplomatic discourse and created the “debt trap” lie. The US anticipate all these attempts will help weaken China’s soft power, so as to achieve the goal of containing China’s rise and influence and safeguarding its own hegemony, noted Xu.

When it comes to fields regional countries have attached great importance to, such as climate change and infrastructure development, the US does not have any intent to make any substantial contribution. Regional countries in the South Pacific are not satisfied with the US for trying to turn the region into an anti-China battlefield, and it is of no significance to promote a strategy to counter China there.

Furthermore, China has no intent to engage in any great power competition with the US in the South Pacific or the rest of the world. The South Pacific should be a stage for global cooperation, rather than an arena for rivalry.

It is noticeable that the UK, a country outside the region, went all the way to the South Pacific to participate in the drills. Britain is scheming to meddle in Asia-Pacific affairs, regarding containing China to coordinate with US’ Indo-Pacific Strategy as its “mission,” said Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator.

Song continued that London has become one of US’ most active allies, be it when targeting China or Russia. In the aftermath of Brexit, Britain has been taking various opportunities to expand its influence in multiple fields, including military. This can be illustrated by its move creating AUKUS with the US and Australia. Participating in the joint exercises can help the UK gain attention. As for the US, it is willing to see more mighty powers such as the UK help contain China and maintain US’ hegemony.

The West is no longer united. Many Western countries have their own calculations, which are at odds with those of the US. Against this backdrop, the US wants to hype the so-called threat from China or Russia to boost the cohesion of the West. But it will turn out that the majority of countries in the world, especially developing ones, will not be led by the nose of the US.

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