China is a better friend to Pacific Island countries than the United States, says Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa. Certainly, the emerging giant’s growing presence in the region has captured the public imagination. But politicians and officials in Australia and the United States are not quite as enthusiastic about that as the Samoan prime minister appears to be.
Indeed, in 2011, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the United States as being in competition with China in the Pacific Islands, and led a resurgence of US commitments to the region. Clinton adopted more conciliatory language when she attended the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ meeting in the Cook Islands in 2012, but she also reminded Island states of the history, values and goals the United States shared with them. The Australian government has long called for more transparency around Chinese aid to the Pacific Islands and sought unsuccessfully to persuade China to join the Cairns Compact for Strengthening Development Cooperation in the region. The Australian Defence White Paper 2013 described the growing reach and influence of “Asian nations” (read China) in the Pacific Islands as a challenge and cautioned that Australia’s contributions may be balanced by support and assistance given by “others” (again, read China) in the future.