TUNA is not China’s only interest in the region. With mining and timber resources in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Fiji, the Asian Dragon has its sights firmly set on the Pacific. There is also the possibility of extractive industry on the seabed in the not-too distant future. By setting up its tuna fleets in the Solomons, Fiji and Kiribati, China has signalled its intention to be a major player beyond the $7billion per annum fisheries industry. Analysts have long argued that the superpowers have started to jockey for position in the resource-rich reason which is also a strategic location for naval fleets.
But China has made no overt moves – apart from increased funding for military training for senior Fijian officers – to set up military facilities in the region. It does, however, use satellite tracking ships to conduct regular sweeps of the Pacific Ocean and pick up digital communications and other electronic intelligence. In fact China seems more interested in using the Pacific as a stepping stone for its growing economy which cannot continue to rely on rapidly diminishing resources.
Chinese businesspeople looking for opportunities are venturing beyond their borders and setting up in the Pacific from PNG in the west, through Melanesia and on to Tonga, Samoa before heading north-east to Tuvalu and Kiribati. Joint fishing ventures and small grocery stores have sprung up along this New Silk Road, gradually putting locals out of business. The Solomon Islands’ New Georgia Province, home to the fish processing site of Noro, has been overtaken by Chinese shops and businesses.