Putting the Pacific on China’s Radar

January 6, 2017

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Number 366 | January 5, 2017


Putting the Pacific on China’s Radar

by Tristan Kenderdine

As China’s foreign direct investment strategy is increasingly formalized into international capacity cooperation funds, Pacific Island economies are struggling to engage China’s broader Belt and Road policies. While Beijing’s investment and trade strategy continues to transform the ocean corridor west from Southern China to Southeast India, the South Pacific looks to be orphaned through yet another period of history. However, the Pacific Islands Forum economies have a huge opportunity to align with China’s global geo-strategy through the new capacity cooperation financing mechanisms.

In 2016, China embarked on a massive capacity cooperation funding campaign to develop a parallel trading system which bypasses international capital infrastructure and allows China to invest abroad while maintaining a closed capital account. This campaign forms the vanguard of a state trade strategy with a transformative power over the macro Asian region. Targeted economies include Central Asia, West Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin America and most recently Central and Eastern Europe.

Both the People’s Republic and the Republic of China have long engaged in aid-for-diplomacy strategies in Pacific Island states. However Beijing now sees a crossroads emerging between South America and China through the Pacific, and has a new strategic interest which goes beyond the Taiwan issue.

China’s slowing industrial economy has also seen a growing desperation from Beijing to offshore industrial growth. Foreign direct investment from Chinese state-driven infrastructure projects has increasingly found its way to states recognizing the People’s Republic: Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Vanuatu, and the Federated States of Micronesia. Despite this, no specific capacity cooperation funds – the finance mechanism for Belt and Road offshoring industrial capacity – have yet been earmarked for Pacific Island states.

China’s wider ocean strategy includes industrial and agribusiness offshore investment. Its Pacific Island trade and investment strategy is run through Guangdong Province and provincial level cities there which coordinate investment in Pacific Island fisheries, agriculture, and infrastructure.

The more specific Belt and Road strategy links China’s eastern and southern port cities with Europe via the Indian Ocean port system. Designated trading routes pass through the South China Sea and the Malacca Straits, then through Myanmar and Sri Lanka on the way past India, and the Middle East toward European sea terminals in Greece, Turkey and Italy.

Pacific Island countries sit at a different crossroads, between South America and China’s East Coast. The development of China’s rail and canal projects is opening logistics infrastructure hubs in South and Central America. This means that a new South Pacific shipping corridor is likely to open up.

A deep-water container port at a half-way point could replicate Dubai’s air strategy on the sea. Fiji becoming a maritime Dubai would bring investment to the region and facilitate trans-Pacific trade logistics. As Papua New Guinea has benefited from liquefied natural gas exports to Taiwan, China and Japan, so too can other Polynesian, Melanesian, and Micronesian island economies find new trade avenues into the Asian mainland.

Containerized intermodal shipping logistics and refrigerated shipping will see huge demand as China’s domestic cold-chain logistics system develops. Chinese demand for a variety of commodities from South and Central America will see increased demand for both soft and hard commodities shipping. A global downturn in shipping paired with an oversupply of ships creates opportunity for Pacific Island countries to develop trade routes while infrastructure is affordable.

South Pacific fisheries and food industrialization present an opportunity to feed China’s huge and growing demand for fish protein that neither global wild catch nor industrial aquaculture can currently service. Mariculture, landing stations and harbor infrastructure, fish processing facilities, and aquaculture development all hold potential for Pacific Island economies. Fish processing facilities could leverage Chinese investment in infrastructure, build aquaculture employment bases and export clean fish products to the Chinese mainland. China’s distant water fleets already exploit wild-catch in both the Pacific and Southern Oceans and China has a huge demand for high-quality, safe, standardized food.

Gene industrialization and gene research is a key strategic industry for China. Legal and organizational developments in seed and animal genetics are laying the groundwork for China to become a world leader in genetics. Interest in biodiversity in the Pacific and the seabed are clear. Negotiations on Biological Diversity Beyond Areas of National Jurisdiction demonstrate China’s interest in marine biodiversity.

“Commerce with China [could] build the Pacific Islands into a genuine trade bloc.”

China is also at the forefront of international seabed mining, taking a leading role in the International Seabed Authority. Chinese state owned enterprise, China Ocean Mineral Resource Research and Development Association currently has 15-year exploratory rights over areas in the Clarion-Clipperton fracture zone, searching for ferromanganese, cobalt and polymetallic nodules. As more industrialized nations engage in the 21st century submarine land-grab, the Pacific Island economies are sitting on more land than most continental countries that, if leveraged well, could bring huge benefit to their populations.

Aerospace technologies, satellite communications and space policy are also rapidly being developed by China, which has signaled a desire to create a network of floating satellite ground stations. Given an increasing constellation of satellites and more sophisticated use, China needs reliable communications surface stations in the South Pacific.

China also faces a dependency on US controlled submarine internet communications lines. The global internet infrastructure is dependent on cables lying across the ocean floor such as Blue Sky – the proposed line from New Zealand to the US. China has already laid its own cables between South America and Africa, and faces bottlenecks to both service and security in the Hawaiian dominated north Pacific. A South Pacific communications route to South America would be invaluable to China, and access to this cable infrastructure would be equally valuable to Pacific Island economies.

In 2016, China embarked on a massive capacity cooperation funding campaign to develop a parallel trading system which bypasses international capital infrastructure and allows China to invest abroad while maintaining a closed capital account. This campaign forms the vanguard of a state trade strategy with a transformative power over the macro Asian region. Targeted economies include Central Asia, West Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin America and most recently Central and Eastern Europe.

Both the People’s Republic and the Republic of China have long engaged in aid-for-diplomacy strategies in Pacific Island states. However Beijing now sees a crossroads emerging between South America and China through the Pacific, and has a new strategic interest which goes beyond the Taiwan issue.

Thinking of China as a net exporter of capital goods, and importer of consumer goods, means small economies plugged into China need pay attention to consumer sentiment and behavior in the country. China’s wider geopolitical and marine strategies will bring investment and infrastructure to Pacific Island economies. This capital of course comes with state mercantilist strategies attached. However, access to these consumer markets will allow Pacific Island exports to feed China’s demand for fish protein, hydrocarbons, minerals, biopharmaceuticals and marine energy.

Outside analysis of economic development in the Pacific has too long focused on tourism, remittance and aid, ignoring the export potential of the island economies. As the Pacific Island economies increasingly engage with global trade, capital investment from China can help to develop industrial infrastructure for further regional economic integration. While both Chinese capital and construction projects present sustainability and quality problems, an impending wave of investment should be harnessed by the Pacific Islands Forum as an opportunity for capital, infrastructure and economic development for the region as a contiguous whole. Let commerce with China build the Pacific Islands into a genuine trade bloc and let us banish dependency economics once and for all.

About the Author

Tristan Kenderdine is Research Director at Future Risk and Assistant Professor at Dalian Maritime University. He can be contacted at Tristan.Kenderdine@anu.edu.au.

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington D.C

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington D.C.
APB Series Coordinator: Peter Valente, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington D.C.

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

For comments/responses on APB issues or article submissions, please contact East-West Center | 1601 East-West Road | Honolulu, HI | 808.944.7111

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3 thoughts on “Putting the Pacific on China’s Radar

  1. Lessons from the Demise of the TPP

    Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Anis Chowdhury

    KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Jan 05 (IPS) – President-elect Donald Trump has promised that he will take the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) on the first day of his presidency. The TPP may now be dead, thanks to Trump and opposition by all major US presidential candidates. With its imminent demise almost certain, it is important to draw on some lessons before it is buried.

    Fraudulent free trade agreement
    The TPP is fraudulent as a free trade agreement, offering very little in terms of additional growth due to trade liberalization, contrary to media hype. To be sure, the TPP had little to do with trade. The US already has free trade agreements, of the bilateral or regional variety, with six of the 11 other countries in the pact. All twelve members also belong to the World Trade Organization (WTO) which concluded the single largest trade agreement ever, more than two decades ago in Marrakech – contrary to the TPPA’s claim to that status. Trade barriers with the remaining five countries were already very low in most cases, so there is little room left for further trade liberalization in the TPPA, except in the case of Vietnam, owing to the war until 1975 and its legacy of punitive legislation.

    The most convenient computable general equilibrium (CGE) trade model used for trade projections makes unrealistic assumptions, including those about the consequences of trade liberalization. For instance, such trade modelling exercises typically presume full employment as well as unchanging trade and fiscal balances. Our colleagues’ more realistic macroeconomic modelling suggested that almost 800,000 jobs would be lost over a decade after implementation, with almost half a million from the US alone. There would also be downward pressure on wages, in turn exacerbating inequalities at the national level.

    Already, many US manufacturing jobs have been lost to US corporations’ automation and relocation abroad. Thus, while most politically influential US corporations would do well from the TPP due to strengthened intellectual property rights (IPRs) and investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms, US workers would generally not. It is now generally believed these outcomes contributed to the backlash against such globalization in the votes for Brexit and Trump.

    Non-trade measures
    According to the Peterson Institute of International Economics (PIIE), the US think-tank known for cheerleading economic liberalization and globalization, the purported TPPA gains would mainly come from additional investments, especially foreign direct investments, due to enhanced investor rights. However, these claims have been disputed by most other analysts, including two US government agencies, i.e., the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS) and the US International Trade Commission (ITC).

    Much of the additional value of trade would come from ‘non-trade issues’. Strengthening intellectual property (IP) monopolies, typically held by powerful transnational corporations, would raise the value of trade through higher trading prices, not more goods and services. Thus, strengthened IPRs leading to higher prices for medicines are of particular concern.

    The TPP would reinforce and extend patents, copyrights and related intellectual property protections. Such protectionism raises the price of protected items, such as pharmaceutical drugs. In a 2015 case, Martin Skrelly raised the price of a drug he had bought the rights to by 6000% from USD12.50 to USD750! As there is no US law against such ‘price-gouging’, the US Attorney General could only prosecute him for allegedly running a Ponzi scheme.

    “Medecins Sans Frontieres” warned that the agreement would go down in history as the worst “cause of needless suffering and death” in developing countries. In fact, contrary to the claim that stronger IPRs would enhance research and development, there has been no evidence of increased research or new medicines in recent decades for this reason.

    Foreign direct investment (FDI) is also supposed to go up thanks to the TPPA’s ISDS provisions. For instance, foreign companies would be able to sue TPP governments for ostensible loss of profits, including potential future profits, due to changes in national regulation or policies even if in the national or public interest.

    ISDS would be enforced through ostensibly independent tribunals. This extrajudicial system would supercede national laws and judiciaries, with secret rulings not bound by precedent or subject to appeal.

    Thus, rather than trade promotion, the main purpose of the TPPA has been to internationally promote more corporate-friendly rules under US leadership. The 6350 page deal was negotiated by various working groups where representatives of major, mainly US corporations were able to drive the agenda and advance their interests. The final push to seek congressional support for the TPPA despite strong opposition from the major presidential candidates made clear that the main US rationale and motive were geo-political, to minimize China’s growing influence.

    The decision by the Obama administration to push ahead with the TPP may well have cost Hillary Clinton the presidency as she came across as insincere in belatedly opposing the agreement which she had previously praised and advocated. Trade was a major issue in swing states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, where concerned voters overwhelmingly opted for Trump.

    The problem now is that while the Obama administration undermined trade multilateralism by its unwillingness to honour the compromise which initiated the Doha Development Round, Trump’s preference for bilateral agreements benefiting the US is unlikely to provide the boost to multilateralism so badly needed now. Unless the US and the EU embrace the spirit of compromise which started this round of trade negotiations, the WTO and multilateralism more generally may never recover from the setbacks of the last decade and a half.

  2. Chinese people is craving for a blue sky, literally, given existing smog situation.

    If Pacific Islanders are willing to tolerate more of my kind of pendatangs, a lot of middle income Chinese might decide to part ways to a slower economy to raise their kids, as long as their kids could still have access to education in Chinese.

    We are already making waves with our forest-city. Demand for them could only increase.

    I was approached about given project in 2014. Totally didn’t expect it could fly. But, given current smog situation, … I am beginning to see things differently from the mainlander Chinese perspective.

  3. It is not easy to be rich. You have master the art of using the money in such a way that it brings you peace of mind and comfort. And above all you also have to make your US 1.00 work like US 2.00.

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