China’s piece in Oceania – Political and Economic perspectives

MartinGive the partnership between Bu Er Magazine and InPRA, this report by Martin Hinkens has been shared by Bu Er for our readers.  Martin has recently finished his degree in International Relations at the University of St Andrews. Apart from an interest in politics, he also develops an expertise in finance  in his own time, working towards the CFA qualification. Martin is currently studying Chinese language at Tsinghua University in Beijing under a Chinese Government Scholarship.



Scholars and the governments differ on whether the People’s Republic of China is on the ‘panda offensive’ or seeking hegemony to actively pursue its national interests. Media often concentrate on issues like Taiwan, Tibet or tensions in the South China Sea, when the government in fact pursues rather foreign objectives compared to a hard-power expansionist state. The Pacific Island states are not of particular political or strategic significance, but offer an interesting perspective on China’s ambition and intentions, which lean towards economic growth and national and international stability.

Chinese relations have been perceived with much suspicion since the Maoist uprising emerging simultaneously with the Cold War rhetoric.  The Chinese Communist Party’s early policies were defined by a strong ideological stance, undergoing massive upheavals with Mao’s ‘Down to the Countryside’ movement (Chinese:上山下乡运动 , Shàng shānxià xiāng yùndòng) and the notorious Cultural Revolution during the 1960s/70s. Meanwhile, Mao Zedong tried to maintain good relations with Soviet Russia, failing as he saw Russian efforts towards communism as insufficiently radical. The West remained a taboo as the US still invoked capitalist-imperialist sentiments.

Today, people inside and outside China know that economic attitudes have changed drastically as the economy is growing to the world’s largest GDP-wise, having adopted a somewhat capitalist-style free-market transformation under communist cover. Politically, Deng Xiaoping’s  “Open door” policy persists until today, having intensified relations with neighbors and Western nations, especially the US, to an extent unseen during the initial years of the communist uprising. Notions of “peaceful coexistence”, “economic stability” and “prosperity”, too, reflect the country’s relations with pacific island states.

Economically, China embraces trade with Oceania, calling their cooperation a “new and compelling reality”. China’s low value currency has allowed it to finance its imports via cheap exports as China’s manufacturing industries are hungry for raw materials, especially gas, oil and metals such as nickel and cobalt. Trade between Oceania and China has increased by 200% since 2002. Off shoring has been a unique opportunity for Chinese petrol and gas firms in Papua New Guinea, where competition with Australia ended up in China’s favor regarding extraction rights.

However, making up less than 0.1% of China’s total trade, the importance of creating good relations lies in Oceania’s political potential as China seeks international recognition despite its controversial internal policies, its human rights record and dealing with the Taiwan question. Political recognition has been achieved through joining the United Nations in 1971 and the Word Trade Organization in 2001. The Pacific Island Forum, whose 16 states are members in the United Nations, make up a substantial proportion of votes, through whose support China could gain further political weight when advancing its political interests.

Mobilizing internal strength is crucial to the Party’s survival, facing pressure especially since the eruption of the Arab Spring movement in the Middle East and North Africa. US government statistics reported 74.000 mass protest incidents involving more than 3.7 million people in one year. It is a Chinese saying that “development is the key to all problems”. While development is at the center of Chinese internal and foreign policy, good relations with Island states offer the CCP to sustain a positive international image to its demanding population.

Donations play a central role in gaining a firm hand over Oceanian politics, too. This realm is subject to immense competition between Taiwan and mainland China, where the latter is overtaking Taiwan as she matures to a financial heavy weight. As Washington Consensus-style market economies have gone through tough times among island states, „cheque book diplomacy“ has become an important means in winning island state leaders. However, although the CCP has been successful at converting states like Fiji and Papua New Guinea, offering “an alternative“ to Western powers such as Australia, states such as Kiribati have avoided good relations even in the face of monetary and scientific benefits in the form of satellite facilities and infrastructure. The mainland’s efforts to isolate Taiwan confront resistance.

Oceania is a region underpinning a particular Chinese foreign policy notion. While scholars such as Henderson and Reilly are convinced that China’s long-term goal is to “replace the United States as the preeminent power in the Pacific Ocean”, economically, politically and militarily, one can argue otherwise. With its gigantic financial reserves China could have outstripped Taiwan easily in terms of donations. China has not the means and the desire to topple America by sowing US-style bases around the world, which would only undermine its long-term objectives of stability and security of its trade routes. China’s main problems are the security of its trade relations, resource imports and internal stability.

Bu Er Magazine

Bu Er Magazine

InPRA and Bu Er Magazine come together to cover China and it's policy concerns. Bu Er is a print and online magazine specialized in everything China-related. Collectively we hope to showcase the young voices from and about China

They seek to create an accessible map of Chinese culture, society, politics and economy.

Together, we decided to present this vast nation on two levels; one that jumps into the dusty old jewellery box capturing the cultural-historic China, and another that explores the contemporary socio-economic China as we watch out for the running giant.
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