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Financial Times: China may seek more security pacts with Pacific Island nations to increase its influence in the region

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Several sources stated to the means that, after recently sealing an agreement with the Solomon Islands, Beijing is in talks with Kiribati and Vanuatu, among other oceanic countries.

China is intensifying its search for influence in the Pacific through the negotiation of security agreements with two other island nations

after the signed pact with the Solomon Islands, officials from the US and its allied countries told the Financial Times.

According to the sources, Beijing is holding talks with Kiribati, a country in Oceania located about 3,000 kilometers from Hawaii, where the US Indo-Pacific Command is based. A US official pointed out that the Asian giant and Kiribati have maintained intermittent talks “not just for months, but for years”, adding that the Chinese authorities are trying to establish “strategic hangers” in Pacific Island Nations.

“They are in talks with Kiribati and at least one other Pacific Island country about an agreement that would cover much of the same ground as the Solomon Islands ,” said an intelligence source from a US ally. According to some experts, the agreement signed in April by Beijing and the Solomon Islands will allow China to build a naval base in that country located northeast of Australia. A leak of a draft of the document revealed that the pact could allow China to send police and even military forces to the islands, prompting criticism from various countries including the US and Australia.

For his part, Michael Foon, Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Kiribati, denied that his government was in “talks about a security agreement with a partner”. However, Tessie Eria Lambourne, leader of the island nation’s opposition, said she was not aware of the talks but that the country’s rapidly evolving relationship with China concerned residents. “We are next in China’s plan to establish its military presence in strategic places in our region,” he said.

Another sign that Beijing is stepping up its pressure in the region is an agreement signed this Friday by China and Vanuatu to improve an international airport in Luganville, on the country’s largest island, Espiritu Santo. The island is home to a US military base that was key during World War II, notes the Financial Times.

An official from the US State Department stated that Washington takes concerns about security deals, including the one with Kiribati, “very seriously,” noting that there are fears that China is also negotiating with Tonga and Vanuatu. “It seems that the Chinese are making a global effort to expand the places where they can operate in a military or quasi-military way,” he said. “And that’s worrying,” he added.

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Beijing has previously signed security agreements with other countries in the region, such as Fiji and Papua New Guinea. However, the scope of the recent pact with the Solomon Islands is much larger and China may have even greater ambitions regarding Kiribati, sources stressed. Experts say that the vast improvement in China’s military capabilities over the past two decades would make a Chinese Air Force or Navy foothold relatively close to Hawaii was even more significant today.

Tess Newton Cain, Pacific expert of Griffith University (Australia), stated that the agreement with the Solomon Islands and the strengthening of ties with Kiribati reflect the “great energy” of a new phase of the Chinese commitment. “Those relationships are very new and have progressed quite quickly. That’s very different from what we see in other places in the region, where the relationships are maybe a little more mature,” he said.

The warning that the Asian giant is trying to increase its influence in this region comes at a time when US President Joe Biden is visiting Asia to discuss with his allies security in the Indo-Pacific.

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