‘China wants to isolate us’: Kiribati opposition’s call for Australia after withdrawing from Pacific Forum

Kiribati opposition leader suggested last-minute move to was under Chinese influence.
Speaking to SBS News from her home island of Abemama, Tessie Lambourne said the government is “going out of their way to cater for China’s interests.”

“Obviously, China has an agenda for the region and Kiribati is part of its plan,” she said.

“My assessment is that perhaps China wants to isolate us from the rest of the forum because they don’t want us to be part of the region that Australia and New Zealand are part of, and have perhaps more influence than any other.” .

What happened?

Kiribati’s president withdrew his country from the regional human rights body on Monday, just 24 hours earlier. was supposed to start in Fiji.
In a three-page letter leaked to , President Taneti Maamau outlined his reasons for leaving the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF). Basically, he said, he felt unheard.
Ms Lambourne urged Pacific leaders, including Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, to continue engaging with the Kiribati government.
“I think I want to say to our forum family: don’t give up on Kiribati.”

“I really hope that we will return to the Pacific Island Forum family very soon. We need each other. The forum will not be complete if the family member is outside the family.”

“a matter of principle”

The group argued that this violated the “gentleman’s agreement” that rotated top positions between regions, with a Micronesian leader next in line to lead the organization.
The countries were returned to the fold last month in a deal that sees Henry Puna finish his term and be replaced by the leader of Micronesia at the next vote. The deal was expected to be signed at a meeting in Suva, Fiji’s capital, this week.

But the deal was not enough to keep Kiribati on the sidelines. In his letter, President Maamaw said “it was a matter of principle” and his government was never properly consulted.

Kiribati opposition leader Tessie Lambourne looks at the camera.

The leader of the opposition urged Pacific leaders, including Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, to continue engaging with the Kiribati government. Credit: Supplied

The president was also annoyed that his request to postpone the meeting to avoid clashing with Kiribati’s Independence Day celebrations went unanswered.

“This should be a reminder to all of us that our solidarity and unity as a region depends on how we treat each other with deep respect and understanding while overcoming the challenges we face as a region,” he wrote.


The leader of the opposition said that this reason, in her opinion, is “disrespectful”, and that taking Kiribati out of the Pacific family was “an extreme step.”

“I think the compromise that was reached was fairly fair,” said Ms Lambourne.

“We already have a general secretary and this is not a Pacifica way to get rid of someone who has already been elected.
Letting him serve his time and then getting our turn after that, I thought it was a good compromise.”
“I say that he [President Maamau] made this decision on an emotional level. I think I understand a little why he did that. But I mean, it’s so extreme to pull Kiribati out of the forum for these reasons.”

China denies trying to influence Kiribati’s decision.


“I would like to emphasize that we never interfere in the internal affairs of the Pacific island states and hope that the island states will strengthen solidarity and cooperation for the sake of common development,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said.
China and its foreign minister, Wang Yi, visited Kiribati on a whirlwind tour of the Pacific in May.
He sought to strike a wide-ranging regional deal with 10 Pacific nations, including Kiribati, to strengthen security, trade and development ties. This was politely rejected by Pacific leaders, who demanded more time to discuss the proposal.

Kiribati’s latest move to distance itself from the Pacific Authority could benefit China.