US cautions Pacific Island countries against using Chinese assistance in local law enforcement

Kiribati claims Chinese police officers were activley collaborating with local law enforcement

Maroosha Muzaffar
Tuesday 27 February 2024 07:08 GMT
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The United States has issued a warning to Pacific Island nations after it emerged that Kiribati was actively collaborating with Chinese police officers on the island.

Reuters reported earlier that Chinese police officers were working with local law enforcement in Kiribati, a Pacific Island nation of about 115,000 close to Hawaii.

On Monday, a spokesperson for the US State Department warned that “importing security” from China risks fuelling diplomatic tensions.

“We do not believe importing security forces from the PRC (People’s Republic of China) will help any Pacific Island country.  Instead, doing so risks fueling regional and international tensions.”

The official further stated that Washington does not condone China’s efforts at “transnational repression”, which includes attempts to set up police stations globally.

“We are concerned about the potential implications security agreements and security-related cyber cooperation with the PRC may have for any Pacific Island nation’s autonomy,” the spokesperson added.

According to Reuter, Kiribati’s engagement with Chinese police involves community policing and developing a crime database programme.

Kiribati’s strategic significance is twofold – not only is it relatively close to Hawaii, but it also boasts one of the largest exclusive economic zones in the world, spanning over 3.5 million square kilometres of the Pacific.

The presence of a Japanese satellite tracking station on the island and China’s intentions to refurbish a World War II-era US military airstrip on Kiribati’s Kanton Island have raised concerns in the US.

Kiribati’s acting police commissioner Eeri Aritiera told Reuters that the Chinese police on the island work with local police, but there was no Chinese police station in Kiribati.

“The Chinese police delegation team work with the Kiribati Police Service – to assist on Community Policing program and Martial Arts (Tai Chi) Kung Fu, and IT department assisting our crime database programme,” he was quoted as saying.

In 2022, it was reported that China was seeking to have 10 Pacific nations sign a comprehensive agreement that spanned various domains, including security, fisheries, and more, in a move that was described as a “game-changing” bid by Beijing to shift control of the region.

However, the Pacific Islands Forum turned down China’s attempts to secure the agreement in the region, where China plays a significant role as an infrastructure financier.

Since 2022, Chinese police forces have been stationed in the Solomon Islands. Papua New Guinea, the largest nation in the Pacific Islands, announced its refusal of Chinese proposals for police aid and surveillance technology.

In October last year, the Sydney-based Lowy Institute – an Australian think-tank – said in its annual analysis that China’s overall economic influence among the 14 aid-dependent island nations in the region is losing ground because of better loan deals being offered by US allies, especially Australia.

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