China’s latest instrument of soft power in the South Pacific is a 14,000-ton hospital ship.
The Peace Ark, which carries more than 100 medical professionals, has made port calls recently at Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Fiji, and will head next week to Tonga. It provided free treatment to more than 4,000 people in the Papuan capital of Port Moresby and nearly 4,700 in Vanuatu.
The ship even skirted around the Solomon Islands, one of fewer than 20 nations that still recognize Taiwan, in another show of Beijing’s political swagger.
China is also building large embassies in the South Pacific and installing infrastructure such as undersea cablesena. But Australia — long the dominant power in the region — is pushing back against what it perceives as Chinese political interference and investment in sensitive areas.
Ties between Canberra and Beijing have never been worse. Australia and New Zealand plan to call for a formal declaration that pushes back against Chinese influence at next month’s 18-nation Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru — a meeting backed by Taiwan.