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This tiny, remote Pacific island now has Chinese embassy

Why a Chinese embassy was opened in Kiribati, a tiny and remote island in the Pacific amid the COVID-19 pandemic?

This small nation with 33 atolls and reefs has a total population of 116,000. Sitting a thousand miles away from China, Kiribati initially has three embassies of other countries – Australia, New Zealand, and Cuba.

However, in May, based on the report from CNN, China joined the trio and established its own embassy in the said nation. This happened when most countries in Asia and the Pacific are busy doing initiatives to fight the new coronavirus.

chinese embassy kiribati
📷: Asian Development Bank

Reportedly, Kiribati changed its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing last September. This week, the nation’s leader, President Taneti Maamau, who is known as pro-Beijing, won the election after he campaigned for closer ties with China. He defeated his rival who is siding with Taiwan.

Based on the article, the relationship between Kiribati and China now is an example of the latter’s “growing influence in the Pacific”. For several years, the small nation was known for its ties with the US and its ally – Australia.

Now, Beijing has become one of the top donors in the Pacific region when it comes to aid needed to combat the COVID-19.

“China’s engagement in the Pacific today has been one driven by opportunism, they’re trying to gain as much influence as they can,” Jonathan Pryke, director of the Pacific island program at the Lowy Institute said in a statement.

However, Chinese Foreign Ministry denied this allegation saying that the help it is extending to the Pacific is “genuine” and it does not have any political color.

China received backlash last month for its early handling of the new coronavirus and its next step was to turn to the Pacific for support. The Chinese government convened a video conference on COVI19 with 10 Pacific Island nations. That was before the World Health Assembly meeting happened in May.

Denghua Zhang, from the Australian National University in Canberra, said that “this is what the Chinese government needed” as its COVID-19 response was highlighted after the meeting.

Australia is also making efforts to give financial aid to nations in the Pacific. Pryke said, “the Australian government has clearly acknowledged that there can’t be any room for vacuum creation, (be it) the hard power, soft power, the aid front, or the medical front”.

Australia has done this because this vacuum might be filled in by China, according to Pryke.

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