Revealing China’s ambitions from strange moves in the Pacific island nation
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Revealing China’s ambitions from strange moves in the Pacific island nation

(Dan Tri) – China’s opening of an embassy in a Pacific island country amid the Covid-19 epidemic is considered a strange move, but is believed to be Beijing’s calculation to expand its influence in the region.

Kiribati is a small island nation with a small population, located in a remote location in the Pacific Ocean (Photo: RNZ)

In May, while Covid-19 was still spreading around the world, a Chinese flag was raised in a country with a population of just 116,000, located thousands of kilometers from Beijing.

China’s opening of an embassy in Kiribati, a country of 33 atolls located in the Central Pacific Ocean, seems very strange – especially in the midst of a raging pandemic.

However, this small island nation is said to be the site of increasing geopolitical competition.

Last September, Kiribati severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan and switched to establishing relations with China.

Kiribati is also considered one of the examples of China’s increasing influence in the Pacific – a region consisting of a chain of resource-rich islands located on an important waterway between Asia and the Americas.

China quietly expands its influence

Many island countries in the Pacific region have long had close relations with the United States, allowing Washington to establish a military presence.

According to statistics from the Lowy Institute (Australia), Beijing is the second largest donor in the Pacific region, just behind Canberra.

In March, China announced a donation of 1.9 million USD in cash, medical equipment, protective gear, and testing kits to countries in the region to help them fight Covid-19.

`China’s cooperation with countries in the Pacific is motivated by opportunism, as Beijing wants to increase its influence as much as possible,` CNN quoted Jonathan Pryke, an expert at the Lowy Institute, commenting.

China has rejected the above assertion, claiming that Beijing’s support to Pacific nations is `sincere` and `has no political factors attached.`

But better relations also come in handy when necessary.

In May, when China faced criticism from many countries for its initial response to the Covid-19 epidemic, Beijing received support from Pacific countries.

The meeting ended with positive recognition from countries about China’s way of fighting the epidemic.

“That is what the Chinese government needs,” said expert Denghua Zhang from Australian National University.

In a joint statement released after the event, Pacific countries appreciated China for its `open, transparent and responsible approach in applying timely and strong response measures, as well as

Meanwhile, the US has repeatedly accused China of hiding the epidemic from the beginning, while Australia called for an independent international investigation into the origin of the epidemic.

Australia’s response

China has made moves to get closer to Pacific countries, however, it still pales in comparison to the support from Australia.

Australia recently announced it would broadcast popular TV shows such as “Neighbors” and  “MasterChef” to seven Pacific countries – a move seen as boosting soft power to deal with the war.

In fact, Australia had been paying attention to China’s moves long before the pandemic.

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