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China's Shadow Looms Over Ceasefire Votes
Why the Pacific islands keep voting with Israel at the UN
Even as Israel and the United States’ staunchest allies quietly peel away, abstaining from recent votes concerning Gaza at the United Nations, one cluster of countries remains rallied around Israel: The Pacific Island nations.
These countries, known for their pacifism above all else, have been backing the Israeli genocide since its eruption in October, voting with Israel rather than staying neutral as other allies have preferred as public protests erupt around the world. On October 27, Fiji, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, and Tonga voted against a humanitarian truce to allow aid into Gaza.
The Pacific Island nations have formed a voting bloc around Israel in recent years. In 2020, the USA, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Nauru oppose a UN draft resolution in November 2020 on the creation of a Palestinian state. In 2017, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, and the Marshall Islands, voted with the United States and Israel against the Untied Nations resolution to reject Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In September this year, Papua New Guinea joined the United States in becoming one of five nations to open an embassy in West Jerusalem, effectively rejecting Palestinian claims to partial sovereignty of the city. Israel is pushing for embassies to be opened in the partially occupied city but most nations prefer to keep their embassies in Tel Aviv whilst Jerusalem’s status remains contested and illegally occupied. Papua New Guinea’s bold move allies its cause with Western hegemony—despite the fervent desire to seek strong allies being rooted in their own colonisation.
Nations in the Pacific suffer from the “resource curse”. Bountiful in natural resources, their land has long been a target for extractive industries and stronger political powers looking to exploit the people and their natural wealth. The Pacific islands enjoy dense forests, supremely fertile soil, layers of precious minerals in the rock, and oil and gas off their coasts. They are a golden ticket, one Europe happily exploited until the 50s and 60s, rapidly granting these nations independence, bequeathing them a judicial and parliamentary system, before abandoning these particularly vulnerable countries to the whim of other players closer to home.
First, the Malaysian loggers arrived, destroying huge swathes of Papua New Guinea’s forests by bribing, bullying, threatening and harming indigenous communities and politicians who dared oppose them. The Malaysian logging cartel is well-versed in getting what it wants, having destroyed the island of Borneo with the help of political figures. Their playbook involves drafting contracts in non-native languages to trick indigenous communities, offering the promise of building schools and churches, and even locking protestors up in shipping containers.
China also landed on Pacific shores, interested not just in timber but the minerals deep in the island rock, extracting everything from copper to gold and causing enormous environmental damage. Like the loggers, they bought political influence throughout the islands in order to plunder the natural resources, investing some of the profits in maintaining their political influence. Peter Kenilorea, an opposition MP for the Solomon Islands, told me his opponents, who were being funded by China, claim he won his campaign simply because their funding dried up during the 2019 oil spill: “They told me straight out that I was lucky the shipment ran aground on the reef.”
The Battle for Supply Chains
The proxy wars fought around the world can be divided into two camps: energy and materials. China controls most of the world’s supply chains for precious minerals and other critical materials needed for an energy transition. The West and its allies control most of the world’s energy supply. A renewable economy might be part of the answer to the climate crisis, but it would augment China’s political influence in the world, casting the West in a long shadow of the words MADE IN CHINA.
The West’s oversized influence ends with fossil fuels, unless it can re-enter the game as an industrial manufacturer. But decades of greed for cheap goods has given China a huge head start—and the chance to dominate the materials market. While the USA kept its sights set on the Middle East and getting access to the immense resources of oil, China took advantage of a distracted, short-term geopolitical strategy and sank its claws into the Pacific, including Australia, and Africa. And it struck gold.
The energy vs materials war is currently played out as trade warfare, with the US and Europe slapping their enemies with sanctions, and China hitting back with tariffs on critical materials like graphite. Emboldened by Russia’s response to sanctions to simply sell their gas in rubles, China has also made noise about trading in Yuan, telling Gulf leaders last year that they are working to buy oil and gas in Yuan, thus weakening the petro-dollar. This trade war has also fractured Western relations, with Brussels refusing to join the USA’s heavy-handed campaign against Beijing.
This comes after Macron has been making the rounds in the majority world, shoring up European supplies of resources, including oil and gas. In Papua New Guinea this summer, he promised a third route to development, one in which these developing nations wouldn’t have to choose between two superpowers, but could progress “brother to brother”. Western sanctions on Russian gas made the EU desperately dependent on United States’ supplies, putting them in a vulnerable voting position. But if Europe sees a green transition on the horizon, they won’t want to be attached to the United States’ fossil-fuelled regime, even if it is the biggest in the world.
East v West
So what does all this have to do with Israel?
Developing nations are vulnerable to the whims of superpowers. In the Pacific, China has caused more damage than the USA, Europe and their allies. Looking at the devastation of the forests and the vast areas of earth split open and gouged out by mining companies, it could be that the Pacific has decided Western allyship may help them fend off China’s pillaging. Backing Israel, the one Western stronghold in the Middle East, which the USA and UK have historically been desperate to conquer, is an excellent way of declaring allyship and backing the continued expansion of the fossil-fuelled regime. The islanders are seemingly happy to share their oil and gas reserves with Western countries because such industry typically happens offshore. What they no longer wish to see is their forests logged and their land destroyed by mining—especially when the profits buy elections.
Macron in particular has taken advantage of the Pacific’s distaste towards China, welcoming Papuan politicians into the folds of the elite political class. Less than one month after dining together in Port Moresby, Macron invited Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister, James Marape, to Paris to watch the Rugby World Cup. Marape then visited Israel to open the embassy.
Caught between the East and the West, the Pacific chose the West.
But where is the West? Macron breaking ranks to court influence abroad, and Brussels outright denying the United States’ demands to punish Chinese innovation, shows that the Western front may be splitting apart. Israel’s brutality in Gaza is also putting pressure on unity, with Western leaders caught between the pressure of maintaining an international regime and currying support from their citizens who are vocally protesting the neo-imperial genocide. The USA is bound to support Israel, in no small part due to the powerful Israeli lobby which buys influence in Congress and the White House much as Chinese mining companies do in Pacific parliaments. But European and British leaders are facing revolts within their own parties, millions of people in their streets, and their bloodthirsty support is wavering ever-so-slightly, as evidenced in the abstaining from voting on the UN resolution in October. For now, the US’s staunchest allies are the some of the world’s most vulnerable countries. Yet, in a world of increasingly scarce resources allyship is cheap, and no amount of embassies and votes will save the Pacific Islands from the extraction both their allies and enemies depend on.
© Rachel Donald
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