China’s Strategic Pivot Towards the South Pacific Island Nation of Tonga

A Hybrid Intelligence Preparation of the Operational Environment (IPOE) Analytical Assessment

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 12, December 2017

By Mark Anthony Taylor

The aim of this research is to critically examine the refocusing of Chinese aid, economic involvement and diplomatic attentions towards the small South Pacific island nation of Tonga.  The research seeks a deeper understanding of China’s behaviour towards Tonga and promotes a reevaluation of how the US and its allies should respond to China’s strategic calculus. China’s actions in Tonga, although appearing benign, represent a cloaked threat to Tonga’s independence, democracy and U.S. regional aspirations.  Furthermore, owing to the comparative strength of the Chinese economic and diplomatic approach, a competitive soft-power response from the US may prove inadequate. In consequence, it may be more advantageous for the US to pursue a heightened hard-power response to ameliorate any potential threat. Through undertaking an analysis of China’s fundamental motivations for the soft-power Tongan pivot and an exploration of the modus operandi employed by China to affect its strategic goals, the project will endeavour to provide a clear answer to the following research question: “Is this Chinese pivot towards Tonga merely an example of cheque-book economic diplomacy, or does it entail a cloaked malignant threat to the security and autonomy of the US and its allies?” Utilising a hybrid adaption of the Intelligence Preparation of the Operational Environment (IPOE) analytic method[1], this project will apply a structured framework in order to probe and reconceptualise the Chinese pivot towards Tonga in an effort to unravel the underlying motivations of China. In line with this approach, the project will firstly scrutinize the situational variables resident in each nation that comprises the terrain of the issue. The significant and unique political, military, economic, social, infrastructure and informational system factors (PMESII) that contribute to the rapid intensification of China/Tongan relations will be explored. From this point, the focus will be turned towards an analysis of the usefulness of the two polar theoretical explanations (liberal and realist) for the current Chinese Course of Action (COA) in Tonga. Lastly, a detailed investigation of the two key Centres of Gravity (COG’s) that underpin and impact upon the China/Tonga relationship will ensue, exploring the cultivation of pro-China sentiment in Tonga and the degree of the US pivot to the South Pacific. The project will draw from a diverse variety of academic publications, expert opinion pieces and news media sources. The analysis reveals that the Chinese strategic pivot into the nation of Tonga superficially appeared to be motivated by benign economic opportunism. However, engagement with Tonga was found to hold a minimal benefit to China in terms of resource supply or economic gain. The major strategic benefits that were found to accrue to China were through the potential securing of Tonga for the establishment of a forward operating military base in the South Pacific. Consequently, China’s pivot may be motivated by concealed Chinese hegemonic designs (the realist perspective) rather than by benign economic opportunism (the liberal perspective). This motivation was found to pose a significant security threat to the US-lead regional order.  Two significant COG’s are bolstering the effectiveness of China’s Tongan pivot. Firstly, China has successfully executed a “hearts and minds” program to facilitate the broad interweaving of pro-China sentiment into the psyche of Tongan society. Secondly, the absence of US attention towards soft-power regional engagement with Tonga has aided China’s pivot. In terms of an effective US response to China’s strategy in Tonga, a revised US soft-power push was assessed as constituting an ineffective strategy due to the resilient China-Tonga relationship that now exists and because of China’s deep aid pockets. Consequently, the evidence points towards the need for a revitalised US hard-power military presence in the region as the most viable option for dampening China’s future militaristic ambitions towards Tonga.

One pa’anga and two pa’anga banknote.
Tonga, Pacific. Credit: Getty Images.

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Perspectives for development of China-EU relations in the infrastructure investment sector: a case study of COVEC’s investment in Poland

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 8, August 2017

By Paulina Kanarek

In 2009 China Overseas Engineering Group (COVEC) was the first Chinese company to win a public works contract in a member state of the European Union. Two years later COVEC decided to withdraw from Poland and its failure to construct a section of the A2 motorway between Warsaw and Łódź brought up questions regarding access to the EU’s public procurement market by third countries.

This research explores the implications of COVEC’s investment for bilateral relations between China and Poland. Through analysis of this particular case study of the unsuccessful entrance to the EU infrastructure market, this work attempts to uncover whether the fault lies in the communication gap between European and Chinese actors and zero-sum mentality or it is a case of policy failure.

This study will reveal the particular model of operations that the Chinese companies try to pursue in Europe, basing on their previous experiences in the African construction market. By showing that the model which relies on offering the lowest bid and then renegotiating the contract cannot work due to the European Union’s legal framework and Polish domestic laws, this evidence-based research will argue that COVEC’s investment was a classic example of project management failure.

Furthermore, this research aims at casting light on the broader context of the political economy of China’s relations with the European Union. Following the national interest while adhering to its obligations as a member state of the EU, Poland serves as a good example to show the complexity of relations between the PRC and highly fragmented EU.

Through qualitative research, including elite interviews, this work intends to fill in the gap in academic research on China’s relations with the Central and Eastern European states, assessing whether there is space for progress in China-EU relations in the infrastructure investment sector.
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