The Taiwan ‘prize’ and the US-China rivalry in the Pacific

The uproar over the recent fisticuffs between Chinese and Taiwanese diplomats in Fiji may have subsided, with the Fijian police declaring the case closed, but the incident has left analysts in the Pacific concerned about what they called Beijing’s increasingly hostile tactics in the region.

The altercation took place on October 8 when Chinese diplomats tried to gatecrash an event marking Taiwan’s national day. Violence ensued and a Taiwanese diplomat was hospitalised with a head injury.

Analysts say it was just one outcome of the intensifying geostrategic competition in the Pacific pitting China against the United States and its allies.

“With the increased United States presence in the region, China is concerned about losing any hard-gained ground, especially over Taiwan,” said Shailendra Singh, the head of the University of the South Pacific’s (USP) journalism programme.

“When the ‘prize’ is Taiwan, the stakes are very high and China will fight very hard,” Singh said.

Ties between the US and China are at their lowest in decades over disputes ranging from trade, the coronavirus pandemic and Beijing’s actions in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and the South China Sea. Amid the plummeting relations, Washington has stepped up its support for Taiwan, a self-ruled island that Beijing considers a renegade province, recently approving the potential sale of more than $3bn worth of arms to the territory.

The US-China rivalry in the Pacific – a region that is home to four of the 15 countries that maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan – is also drawing in other Washington allies, including Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, according to Singh.

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