Xi Jinping starts goodwill tour of the Pacific amid rise in South China Sea tensions


Hong Kong (CNN)Chinese President Xi Jinping kicked off a packed itinerary in Papua New Guinea Friday at the start of a tour which marks Beijing’s latest diplomatic foray into a region once considered outside of China’s sphere of influence.

Xi, who will attend the 2018 APEC summit in the PNG capital Port Moresby, will then continue on to Brunei and the Philippines, both important claimants in the hotly contested South China Sea.

Facing an increasingly hostile US government, pushing back on issues of security and trade, the Chinese government has been attempting to build bridges with regional powers.
“There’s maybe a sense that China’s feeling a bit on the defensive at the moment,” Euan Graham, senior fellow at Sydney’s Lowy Institute, told CNN.

Xi’s visit follows a strong push back against Chinese moves in the South China Sea by Washington, which has stepped up naval operations, warning China it views the widely-disputed territory as international waters.

In the Pacific, Australia announced plans to build a joint naval base with Papua New Guinea in early November, as well as a new development fund implicitly challenging China’s efforts to make inroads with Pacific nations.

“It’s time to open, I believe a new chapter in relations with our Pacific family … This is not just our region, or our neighborhood. This is our home,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a speech on November 8.