China claims it has not broken any rules after two officials apparently violated a speech by US Vice President Kamala Harris at the Pacific Islands Forum.
This week’s leaders’ summit was saturated with geopolitical tensions between China and the US amid their heightened interest in the region.
The race for influence in the Pacific intensified after the signing of a security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands earlier this year.
Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama stated in his opening remarks that “the global and geopolitical landscape is characterized by intense competition.”
“We see how a multipolar system is emerging, and everyone is demanding to change the world in their favor,” he said.
“We have seen this in our region in the last few months.”
In the months leading up to the summit, China signed more than 40 bilateral agreements with Pacific countries, including an agreement with Honiara.
The United States reacted Wednesday when Ms Harris announced via video link a fishing deal that would send US$600 million (about AU$890 million) to the Pacific Treasury, new embassies in Kiribati and Tonga, and further commitments.
“We understand that in recent years, the Pacific Islands may not have received the diplomatic attention and support that you deserve… we are going to change that,” she said at the meeting.
During her speech, two unauthorized Chinese officials were seen in the room.
The Guardian reported that the police asked them to leave, and the ABC reported that the two men were defense attachés.
Neither the forum nor local Chinese officials responded to requests for comment, but Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin “established the truth” from Beijing overnight.
“Chinese representatives have been invited to participate in relevant meetings and activities,” he said.
Mr. Wang downplayed alleged diplomatic snubs towards China, which, unlike the US, did not receive an invitation to speak at the summit, saying that Ms. Harris’ speech was a “fishery meeting” speech.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and New Zealand leader Jacinda Ardern held bilateral meetings with the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands in Fiji.
Speaking from Suva, Mr. Albanese described his meeting with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogawareas as “very constructive”, saying he was “very confident” that the reunification of the Solomon Islands would not lead to the establishment of Chinese military bases.
Mr Albanese said he did not ask for the deal to be rejected, but stressed that “it would not be in Australia’s interest to have a military base so close to where Australia is.”
The body language between the two leaders was certainly indicative of a warming relationship, with Mr. Sogavare greeting Mr. Albanese with a warm hug, saying, “Ahh, I need a hug.”
Ms Ardern said she had addressed similar concerns about the security pact, claiming similar concessions.
“I made it clear that New Zealand would be deeply concerned about any development that contributes to the militarization of our region,” she said.
“The Prime Minister agrees with this. He expressed the opinion that the militarization of our region is not in the interests of the Pacific family, nor in the interests of the Solomon Islands. So there are points of contact.”