Political society

US to boost civil society and media in Asia-Pacific to counter China’s influence

The United States foreign aid agency has said it will inject more resources into civil society and free media across Asia and the Pacific as it steps up its efforts to push back the influence of the China around the world.

USAID’s senior adviser for China, Anka Lee, is in Canberra for talks with Australian officials as the agency develops a new strategy to compete with Beijing.

The Chinese government has invested huge resources in infrastructure and major business projects in several parts of the world, especially in Southeast and South Asia.

While the Biden administration has pledged to meet this challenge and reassert American influence, it has also withdrawn from several key trade deals in the region, which could see its economic influence in Asia erode rapidly. .

But Mr Lee said aid and development was another crucial arena for strategic competition, and that decisions made by donors like the United States and Australia could still shape the region significantly.

He said the United States and Australia needed to “step up” their development efforts in Asia and the Pacific, which he called “ground zero” in the competition with China.

“The United States needs to be more present in the region, and we want to work with our Australian allies and friends here to make sure we are really delivering what is beneficial to our partners here,” he said.

Mr Lee said a key objective would be to ensure societies in the region were “resilient” and “capable of protecting and repelling any kind of influence or effort from the PRC (People’s Republic of China) which could be detrimental to their interests.”

While Australia remains by far the biggest aid donor to the Pacific – and Chinese development aid has actually declined in recent years – Beijing has still gotten credit from several Pacific island governments for its investments. in key infrastructure projects.

The recent security pact between the Solomon Islands and China has also heightened concerns in Canberra about Beijing’s ability to successfully woo political leaders in the region.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has stepped up his attacks on insider critics and civil society groups in his country since news of the security deal broke, calling them anti-China ‘bigots’ manipulated by “foreign masters”.

Mr. Lee said China’s “elite capture” posed a significant challenge to the United States and its allies in several regions.

He also said the United States needed to think “a little more carefully and clearly” about where it had a “comparative advantage” over China, and suggested that Washington could benefit more from the “power of convocation” of Australia in the Pacific.

Anka Lee claims China is enabling “illiberal practices” in other countries through the export of telecommunications and surveillance technology.(PA: Czarek Sokolowski)

The new policy being developed by USAID identifies five categories of China’s activities that Lee said are “potentially very damaging” to the region and the US development agenda.

They included China “enabling illiberal practices” in other countries through the export of telecommunications and surveillance technologies, bribing elites to secure strategic gains, and using its economic clout to silence critics in other countries. ‘other countries.

But Mr. Lee also said that while China strategy was vital, it could not be the agency’s only organizing principle.

He also acknowledged that the United States could not “force countries to choose sides” between Washington and Beijing, and suggested that presenting developing countries with a strict binary choice would only stoke resentment.

“[Saying] it’s either between us or China is not productive. We need to focus more on our relationship, on what we bring to our partner countries than on their relationship with China,” he said.

“It’s, ultimately, about them.”