In a report, the Financial Times said that after signing a security agreement with the Solomon Islands, China is in talks with Kiribati and Vanuatu to sign similar agreements with these two countries. The Financial Times report also said discussions with Kiribati have continued for years, citing an unnamed US government official.
It was also said that an agreement was being discussed with Tonga as well.
The official said that Beijing is establishing security principles in the Indo-Pacific region with the help of these security agreements. The official also told the Financial Times that the security agreements are similar to what was agreed with the Solomon Islands.
This move is evidence that China is expanding its sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific with the aim of confronting Australia and the United States.
Another US State Department official expressed concerns that China is making a “global effort to expand the places where it can operate in military or paramilitary ways.”
The United States has more to worry about because the talks with Kiribati are at an advanced stage. Kiribati, an island country in the Pacific Ocean, is located 3,000 kilometers from the US state of Hawaii where the Indian and Pacific Command are based.
The draft agreement between China and the Solomon Islands would allow China to send police and even military forces to the islands, raising concerns for AUKUS partners Australia and the United States – also members of the Quartet.
The discovery comes at a time when US President Joe Biden is close by and it remains unclear whether the issue will come up during the Quartet meeting in Tokyo next week.
For its part, Kiribati has denied entering into any new type of security agreements. Their Secretary of State Michael Vaughn denied the reports. However, opposition leader Tessie Aria Lambourne has warned against being part of China’s plans.
“We are next in China’s plan to establish its military presence in strategic locations in our region,” she said. She also said that local residents oppose the Chinese presence.
Chinese diplomats in return for Kiribati’s obedience will now allow a satellite tracking station to be restarted in the island nation.
The Chinese stopped working on the station after Kiribati established diplomatic relations with Taiwan after 2003, but after it switched allegiances to Beijing in 2019, work is likely to resume buoyed by security agreement talks.
The Chinese are also upgrading an international airport in Luganville, Vanuatu, a major US military base during World War II, after an agreement was struck between the two parties on Friday.
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