Washington, Jul 5 (IANS): Partners in the Blue Pacific, established late last month by the US, Australia and three other allies, is seen by analysts -- and by Beijing -- as the latest in a series of moves to counter China's drive to expand its diplomatic and military reach in the South Pacific, a report said.
The group announced itself in a joint statement on June 24, saying it came together in response to growing pressure on the rules-based free and open international order Japan, New Zealand and Britain round out the membership, VOA reported.
Australia and the US have gone on heightened alert over the past year because of China's effort to expand its influence in the South Pacific, where more than a dozen small and mainly impoverished countries rely on aid and trade from larger nations.
Over the past year, China has shown increasing interest in the region, where it seeks to expand its Naval influence in support of long-standing business interests, especially in fishing, experts have told VOA.
Beijing signed a security agreement with the Solomon Islands in April and reached 52 bilateral economic-focused "cooperation outcomes" after its foreign minister visited 17 of the region's small archipelagic countries in May and June.
"The South Pacific is being rediscovered," said Carl Thayer, emeritus professor of politics at the University of New South Wales in Australia, referring to the impact of Chinese activity, VOA reported. "Now the US, Australia, New Zealand and Japan are moving into higher gear."
Washington has exerted influence in the South Pacific for decades through compacts, a type of alliance with countries that were once under US rule. Australia, close to the South Pacific geographically, sees strong relations with the island nations as key to its security, according to a Lowy Institute commentary.