Suva: Two Chinese defence attaches have been kicked out by Fijian police from a Pacific Islands Forum meeting at which the US Vice-President Kamala Harris was giving a virtual address, The Guardian reported.
The men were sitting in on a session of the forum’s fisheries agency at which Harris announced the step-up of US engagement in the region, believed to be in response to China’s growing influence.
They were sitting with the media contingent, but one was identified as a Chinese embassy official by Lice Movono, a Fijian journalist who is covering the forum for ‘The Guardian’.
Movono said she “recognised him because I’ve interacted with him at least three times already,” including during the visit of the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, to Suva in June, at which journalists were removed from events and blocked from asking questions.
“He was one of the people that was removing us from places and directing other people to remove us,” she added.
Diplomatic sources later confirmed that the men were a defence attache and a deputy defence attache from China, and part of the embassy in Fiji, The Guardian reported.
The incident comes after an intensification of Chinese involvement in the region in the last few months, which is simmering as an undercurrent to the year’s Pacific Islands Forum.
However, Harris was invited to attend the forum virtually, in what is seen as a huge coup for the US and a blow to China, which has been not afforded a similar honour.
The US has made a concerted effort to step up its engagement with the Pacific in light of Chinese interest, including by reopening its embassy in Solomon Islands, which was announced in February, plus a slew of measures announced by Harris on Wednesday.