Kiribati ‘forced’ to allow China visit on Pacific mission, says journalist

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China's regional Pacific ambitions
China's regional Pacific ambitions ... eight-nation tour beginning with Solomon Islands featured on Al Jazeera and global media. Image: Al Jazeera screenshot

RNZ Pacific

A Pacific journalist believes the Kiribati government has been coerced by Beijing to accommodate China’s foreign minister’s visit.

Kiribati authorities have confirmed that Wang Yi would briefly stopover to meet President Taneti Maamau as part of his Pacific-wide tour.

Journalist Rimon Rimon said the government had been “very secretive” and “people are frustrated and angry” after only learning about the trip via a Facebook post.

Rimon said Kiribati was grappling with a covid-19 outbreak and with the borders closed it was a change in practice by the government to oblige Beijing’s request.

“I think there has been some kind of pressure from Beijing. Only last night I had confirmation from a source from Beijing that before they travelled Kiribati was finally on the list,” he said.

“So, I finally understood that there had been some pressures and our government has submitted to those pressures.”

Rimon said a deal with Kiribati had more significance for China, as Beijing had already demonstrated its willingness to develop Kiribati’s northernmost island, Kanton Island, which has strategic military potential.

Kiribati government ‘reluctant’
“And I think China is pursuing that. I think our government is quite reluctant on something military-wise, based on the narrative that the government has been saying throughout the years.

“But I have no doubt this is, this is the number one thing on China’s agenda. How our government will respond to that or accommodate that. I have no idea of that,” he said.

President Taneti Maamau of Kiribati
President Taneti Maamau of Kiribati … Kanton Island “the number one thing on China’s agenda,” says journalist. Image: Rick Bajornas/UN

The Kiribati government said the high-level state visit was an important milestone for Kiribati-China relations, as it would strengthen and promote partnership and cooperation between the two countries after the resumption of diplomatic ties in 2019.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Wang Yi is due to visit Vanuatu next Wednesday as part of his tour.

The Chinese Embassy in Port Vila has confirmed the arrival date for bilateral talks with the government of Vanuatu.

The embassy said Wang’s visit in Vanuatu had nothing to do with security issues. Instead, it said, he would discuss five memorandums of understanding as well as other business.

The embassy said the discussion points would be on tangible benefits that China could bring to the people of Vanuatu.

As well as Port Vila, Wang is due to visit Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, and Kiribati. He is currently in Solomon Islands.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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