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China’s Rising Ambitions in the South Pacific

And what they mean for geopolitics—and for the region’s island democracies.

A thin strip of island is surrounded by the sea.
A thin strip of island is surrounded by the sea.
An aerial view of a strip of land between the Pacific Ocean (right) and a lagoon in Funafuti, Tuvalu, on Nov. 25, 2019. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi attempted a “victory lap” in the South Pacific. Following China’s extensive security pact with the Solomon Islands in April, he met with his counterparts from Pacific island nations in Fiji in the hope of securing new deals.

“Beijing’s intent to develop dual-use facilities or even outright military bases across the Pacific Ocean should be entirely unsurprising to U.S. policymakers,” Alexander B. Gray wrote in January. Yet China’s pursuits in the region, from the Solomon Islands deal to the recent island-hopping campaign, have continued to catch Australia and the United States flat-footed.

In this collection of reporting and essays, we track the rise of China’s ambitions in the South Pacific—and untangle what they mean not just for geopolitics but also for the region’s fragile island democracies and their leaders.—Chloe Hadavas

Last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi attempted a “victory lap” in the South Pacific. Following China’s extensive security pact with the Solomon Islands in April, he met with his counterparts from Pacific island nations in Fiji in the hope of securing new deals.

“Beijing’s intent to develop dual-use facilities or even outright military bases across the Pacific Ocean should be entirely unsurprising to U.S. policymakers,” Alexander B. Gray wrote in January. Yet China’s pursuits in the region, from the Solomon Islands deal to the recent island-hopping campaign, have continued to catch Australia and the United States flat-footed.

In this collection of reporting and essays, we track the rise of China’s ambitions in the South Pacific—and untangle what they mean not just for geopolitics but also for the region’s fragile island democracies and their leaders.—Chloe Hadavas


The U.S. Navy and South Korean Navy hold joint drills in the western Pacific Ocean on May 3, 2017.
The U.S. Navy and South Korean Navy hold joint drills in the western Pacific Ocean on May 3, 2017.

The U.S. Navy and South Korean Navy hold joint drills in the western Pacific Ocean on May 3, 2017.Sean M. Castellano/U.S. Navy via Getty Images

The Pacific Shouldn’t Be a ‘Strategic Surprise’

Why, Alexander B. Gray writes, aren’t Beijing’s ambitions in the region obvious to Washington?


Solomon Islander Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare attends a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
Solomon Islander Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare attends a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

Solomon Islander Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare attends a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (not pictured) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct. 9, 2019.Thomas Peter/Pool/Getty Images

Australia’s Got a Solomon Islands Headache (Again)

China’s expansion into the South Pacific caught Australia and the United States off guard, FP’s Mary Yang and Jack Detsch write.


A Chinese aircraft carrier sails.
A Chinese aircraft carrier sails.

The Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning sails during a drill at sea on April 18, 2018.AFP via Getty Images

Beijing Eyes New Military Bases Across the Indo-Pacific

Tanzania, Cambodia, and the UAE are on China’s wish list—and now Kiribati, within striking distance of Hawaii, Craig Singleton writes.


A Great Wall 236 submarine of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy participates in a naval parade in the sea near Qingdao, in eastern China's Shandong province on April 23, 2019.
A Great Wall 236 submarine of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy participates in a naval parade in the sea near Qingdao, in eastern China's Shandong province on April 23, 2019.

A Great Wall 236 submarine of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy participates in a naval parade in the sea near Qingdao, in eastern China’s Shandong province on April 23, 2019. Mark Schiefelbein/AFP via Getty Images

China’s Reach Tests the Pacific’s Fragile Island Democracies

The United States and Australia must work together to support Pacific states, Philip Citowicki writes.


Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama takes off his hat at the start of the final session of the U.N. Climate Change Conference hosted by Fiji and held in Bonn, Germany, on Nov. 18, 2017.
Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama takes off his hat at the start of the final session of the U.N. Climate Change Conference hosted by Fiji and held in Bonn, Germany, on Nov. 18, 2017.

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama takes off his hat at the start of the final session of the U.N. Climate Change Conference hosted by Fiji and held in Bonn, Germany, on Nov. 18, 2017. Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters

First Fiji, Then the World

The prime minister of a tiny group of Pacific islands has become an international power player, Grant Wyeth and Larissa Stünkel write.

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