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Concerns mount among US lawmakers over Chinese police presence in Kiribati

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Washington, DC | February 29, 2024 12:25:05 AM IST
US lawmakers and officials expressed concern over the Pacific island nation of Kirabati's using police from China for security, even as the State Department warned that such cooperation could bring new risks to the island bordering Hawaii, Voice of America reported.

According to the report, Kiribati's acting police commissioner, Eeri Aritiera, said a Chinese police delegation would assist Kiribati's community policing programme and IT department, in what evoked concerns among US lawmakers.

Aritiera said the island nation of more than 115,000, whose closest island is about 2,100 km (1,305 miles) from Hawaii, requested China's policing assistance in 2022, Voice of America reported.

In an email to VOA, a State Department spokesperson said the U.S. conducts police training in Kiribati. The spokesperson raised concerns about the "potential implications that security agreements and security-related cyber cooperation" with China may have for a nation's sovereignty.

"We do not believe importing security forces from [China] will help any country," he said in an emailed interview with VOA.

Further, according to Voice of America, highlighting the proximity of Kiribati to Hawaii and the strategic implications of Chinese security cooperation, the State Department cautioned against the ramifications of security agreements with China on a nation's sovereignty.

The lawmakers in the US are worried that Washington may be losing ground to the People's Republic of China in the Pacific.

"The PRC's policing activities in Kiribati are a clear sign of Beijing's growing influence in Pacific island countries through lawfare. It's also a sign of the democracy-eroding effects of the PRC's diplomatic isolation of Taiwan," US Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, the ranking member on the House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the US and the Chinese Communist Party, said.

"If we don't engage more with our Pacific partners like Kiribati to counter this CCP malign influence, we could face serious trade and national security issues," US Representative Neal Dunn, a Florida Republican who also serves on the Select Committee, said.

Amid growing Chinese engagement in the Pacific, concerns persist about the corrosive impact of authoritarian policing on regional stability and values, according to reports. Lawmakers stressed the need for sustained US engagement to counterbalance China's assertiveness in the region.

As debates ensue over funding for Pacific allies facing economic pressures from Beijing, US lawmakers emphasised the significance of initiatives like the Compacts of Free Association (COFA) in reaffirming American commitments to freedom and democracy in the Pacific.

With the delay in passing COFA funds, concerns mount over the potential for China to exploit gaps in US engagement, underscoring the imperative for decisive action to uphold regional stability and security.(ANI)

 
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