U.S. UNEASY OVER CHINA’S INCREASED PACIFIC PRESENCE

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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Sept. 12) - The United States of America is becoming increasingly nervous about China's growing influence in the Pacific.

A recent report to U.S. Congress has warned how its neglect of the Pacific has been replaced by China's growing influence.

[PIR editor’s note: See the July 6 report, "The Southwest Pacific: U.S. Interests and China’s Growing Influence," in PIR’s "Reports" section. The report was released by the Congressional Research Service. ]

Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said, "You see a bit of check book diplomacy by Taiwan and China - it's already playing out. I don't think it will necessarily end in force but there is a bit playing out here in the region."

Armitage now advises the White House on international and security issues and he says China's growing influence in the Pacific is huge, reports Television New Zealand. It does not help that a recent Congressional report says the U.S. has neglected the region.

"The USA has been so engaged with the Middle East - Iraq and Afghanistan - that we perhaps haven't shown the leadership I would like to show," says Armitage.

According to the report, the U.S. has relied on New Zealand and Australia to help maintain political stability in the region, which clearly has not always worked.

In the past year alone there has been a coup in Fiji, riots in the Solomon Islands and arson in Tonga.

But Roderic Alley, from the Centre for Strategic Studies at Victoria University, said of the situation, "I don't know if it's so much about letting them down. I think it's the realization by the Americans that the whole setting of the Pacific has become much more complicated."

That is because China is using cash to buy influence, says the TV report.

If China is prepared to give aid to cash-strapped islands, is it such a bad thing?

Armitage says it depends on how the money is spent.

Fiji Times Online has sought comments from the Chinese Embassy in Suva.

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