After signing a security agreement with Solomon Islands, China is holding talks with Kiribati and Vanuatu to sign similar agreements with both these nations, The Financial Times said in a report. The Financial Times report also said that discussions with Kiribati have gone on for years, quoting an unnamed US government official.
It was also said that an agreement was being discussed with Tonga as well.
The official said that Beijing was establishing security perches in the Indo-Pacific with the help of these security agreements. The official also told the Financial Times that the security agreements are similar to what was agreed upon with Solomon Islands.
The move is evidence that China is expanding its sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific with an aim to counter Australia and the US.
Another US state department official expressed concerns that China is making ‘a global effort to expand the places where they can operate in military or quasi-military ways’.
The US has more to worry about because the talks with Kiribati are at an advanced stage. Kiribati, the Pacific Island nation, is 3000 kms away from the US state of Hawaii where the US Indo-Pacific Command is based.
The draft agreement between China and Solomon Islands allows the former to send police and even military forces to the islands, increasing concerns for AUKUS partners Australia and the United States - who are also members of the Quad grouping.
The finding comes at a time when US president Joe Biden is in the neighborhood and it remains unclear whether this issue will come up during the Quad meeting in Tokyo next week.
Kiribati for its part has denied entering into any new kind of security deal. Their foreign minister Michael Foon dismissed the reports. However, the opposition leader Tessie Eria Lambourne 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 the local population was opposed to Chinese presence.
The Chinese diplomats in return for Kiribati’s obedience will now allow restarting a space tracking station in the island-nation.
The Chinese stopped work in the station after Kiribati established diplomatic ties with Taiwan after 2003 but after it switched its loyalties to Beijing in 2019, work is likely to restart buoyed by the talks of security agreement.
The Chinese are also upgrading an international airport in Luganville, Vanuatu, a major US military base during World War II, after a deal was struck between both parties on Friday.
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