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British sun sets on Pacific as China waits in shadows


Lantern Swinger
From the Telegraph. Gone are the good old days of the China Fleet!

British sun sets on Pacific as China waits in shadows
By Nick Squires in Sydney
(Filed: 01/04/2006)

The Union flag was lowered yesterday for the last time in Tonga, one of Britain's oldest friends and allies, as China prepared to extend its foothold in the South Pacific.

The closure of Britain's high commission, a picturesque white wooden villa in the capital, Nuku'alofa, brings to an end a presence dating from the 1830s.

In the past year the Foreign Office has closed its high commissions in Kiribati, a former British colony known as the Gilbert Islands, and Vanuatu, formerly the Anglo-French New Hebrides.

As the British pull out of a region they have dominated since the voyages of Captain James Cook more than 230 years ago, China is flexing its strategic and economic muscle beyond its traditional sphere of influence.

Wen Jiabao, China's second most powerful leader, will next week lead a delegation of 200 to a trade summit with six South Pacific nations, in an unprecedented visit.

The forum, to be held in Fiji, is expected to yield political and commercial agreements aimed at opening the region to the Chinese.

China's interest is three-fold: to compete with Taiwan in securing the diplomatic allegiance of island states, to secure raw materials such as timber, gas and gold, and to challenge Western powers such as Australia, New Zealand and the United States, which have gradually tried to bridge the gap left by Britain.

Susan Windybank, from the Centre for Independent Studies, an Australian think-tank, said: "China is increasing its presence, both diplomatically and economically, particularly with resource-rich countries such as Papua New Guinea, Fiji and the Solomon Islands."

China now has nine diplomatic missions in the South Pacific - the largest number of any country, and no fewer than eight South Pacific heads of state had the red carpet rolled out for them on trips to Beijing in 2004 and 2005.

"It's clear that China wants to be the hegemon of the region," said Miss Windybank. "In the future that may include a military presence, as they expand the capabilities of their navy.

"Britain is no longer a player in the Pacific, nor does it want to be. It's the end of an era."

Tony Blair acknowledged the shift during his official visit to New Zealand last week.

He discussed the impending Chinese summit with his counterpart, Helen Clark, and told her that from now on Britain will have to rely on New Zealand as its eyes and ears in the region.

But Mr Blair will be disappointed if he thinks New Zealand can act as a regional gendarme - Wellington scrapped the combat capability of its air force four years ago and its navy is small.

There are concerns that along with China's much needed trade and investment come less welcome imports.

Thousands of Chinese have poured into the region in recent years, along with powerful triad gangs involved in prostitution, illegal gambling and drug trafficking.

In 2004, Fijian police broke up a huge methylamphetamine manufacturing operation involving Chinese and Hong Kong nationals, the biggest in the southern hemisphere.

Unlicensed Chinese fishing boats are plundering the Pacific for fish such as tuna and China is also involved in illegal timber. In a report this week, Greenpeace estimated that more than 90 per cent of logging in Papua New Guinea was being conducted illegally, with most of the timber ending up in China.

British missionaries arrived in Tonga in the 1830s and in 1875, the Rev Shirley Baker helped draft a constitution for the king, who changed his name to George.

Paul Nessling, Britain's last high commissioner, said the closure of the mission represented "the end of an era for the two peoples who live at opposite ends of the world".

Britain's interests in Tonga, Vanuatu and Kiribati will be handled from its high commission in Fiji.

Tonga's prime minister, Feleti Sevele, the first commoner to hold the job following his appointment yesterday, said Tonga had been a faithful friend of Britain for almost two centuries.

Tongan soldiers fought and died for the Empire during both World Wars, and ordinary Tongans raised enough money to buy three Spitfires.

Britons were charmed during the Queen's coronation in 1953 when Queen Salote refused to shelter beneath an umbrella despite torrential rain in London.

But perhaps the real surprise lies in the fact that the British had maintained a presence for so long.

Ian Campbell, professor of politics at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji, said: "It's a long way away and is of no particular strategic value. It was a part of the Empire which was acquired almost by default.

"Britain has much more important fish to fry."
It's a terrible shame, but you can be reassured that the sun still does not ever set on the British Empire. Even on the shortest day of the year, sunrise in Montserrat is still a few minutes before sunset in Pitcairn. Apparently. God Save the Queen!


War Hero
A further reminder of the rapidly moving centre of international economic and military supremacy it would appear. The pattern is familiar throughout history and repeated as one power fades and a successor emerges. In this case the expanding force is China and as the British Empire has long gone, and it seems the USA may be past its peak,this massive restructuring of the global hierarchy is inevitable.
It is interesting how China is poised in Tibet, in a commanding position with India below. Now a move into the Pacific towards the west coast of America and in the process so conveniently close to Australia and New Zealand. The spread is beyond the point of no return I believe and unstoppable.
In all ways China desperately needs more room and raw material for one of its greatest assets , a huge population, straining at the seams. Another feature of the expansion is the restriction on family size in China. With only one child allowed each family I believe the ratio of male female will be skewed towards the male.
I would suggest it is fairly predictable there will be a surge to seek more females eventually and that should be interesting with everything else that is about to happen. Yes, now we are able to observe things everywhere almost as they are taking place, I believe we have ringside seats to one of the greatest shows in human history. It'll leave the Olympics for dead and no doubt half the world's population. Interesting times we live in,
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