Hong Kong (CNN)China has proposed a sweeping regional security deal with a number of Pacific Island nations, according to documents seen by CNN, amid concern from the United States and its allies about Beijing's expanding reach in the region.
China plays for influence in South Pacific with security proposal and diplomatic tour
The draft proposal sent by China to potential partners in the South Pacific calls for greater cooperation in security, policing and cybersecurity, and in economic development, among other areas.
The draft proposal, provided to CNN by a person with direct knowledge of the matter and first reported by Reuters, is expected to be discussed at the second China-Pacific Island Countries Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Fiji next week -- part of a 10-day regional diplomatic tour by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Wang's tour began Thursday in the Solomon Islands and will bring the minister to Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and East Timor, according to China's Foreign Ministry.
It's not clear whether the proposed pact would gain wide support among Pacific Island nations with relations with Beijing. But, if accepted, it would mark a significant advance in Beijing's connection to the region, which holds geo-strategic importance in the Indo-Pacific.
The Pacific Islands' location, largely to the northeast of Australia, means the island nations have long been viewed by military strategists as a vital connecting thread between the US territory of Guam and US-allied Australia.
Both the US and Australia are wary of a China that has grown increasingly assertive in the South China Sea extending its reach further into Pacific waters, and potentially isolating that vital island chain network.
Meanwhile, the island nations themselves -- typically more concerned about the ravages of climate change than geopolitics -- have been wary of being viewed as pawns in a great power struggle.
Already at least one country to which the agreement was directed has raised concerns, and there has been broader backlash from other regional powers who are wary of China's intentions.
In a letter to 22 other Pacific leaders seen by CNN, President of the Federated States of Micronesia David Panuelo said the draft proposal was intended to shift Pacific Island nations with diplomatic ties to China "very close into Beijing's orbit."
Panuelo argued that in addition to impacting the sovereignty of Pacific Island nations, signing such an agreement could bring about a new "Cold War" amid tensions between China and the West.
News of the draft proposal and Wang's tour may have struck a deeper chord of concern from other powers as it comes on the heels of the Solomon Islands and China inking a bilateral security deal last month -- sparking fears of providing an opening for a Chinese military base on the island nation.
In remarks in Honiara on Thursday, Wang defended that Solomon Islands-China security deal as "open and transparent" and said there were no intentions to establish military bases.
"China supports Pacific Island Countries in strengthening security cooperation and working together to address regional security challenges ... Pacific Island Countries are sovereign and independent states and are not anyone's 'backyard,'" he said.
Last month, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare made assurances Honiara's deal with Beijing would "complement" an existing security agreement with Australia and would "not adversely impact or undermine the peace and harmony of our region." The Solomons is around 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) from Australia's northeastern coast.
But China's regional intentions were of apparent high concern for Australia this week, with new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese -- who had been critical of his predecessor's failure to avert China's deal with the Solomon Islands -- saying Thursday his country "cannot afford" to "drop the ball" in its response.
"This is China seeking to increase its influence in that region of the world where Australia has been the security partner of choice since the Second World War," he said, adding that Canberra would need to offer more support.
In a mark of the Albanese government's concern, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong traveled to Fiji on Thursday, where -- in a speech that didn't name China directly -- she pitched Australia as "a partner that doesn't come with strings attached, nor imposing unsustainable financial burdens."
"We are a partner that won't erode Pacific priorities or Pacific institutions. We believe in transparency. We believe in