SYDNEY — China said it held a video meeting to discuss police cooperation with several Pacific island nations on Tuesday, with at least two nations telling Reuters their ministers and police commissioners were unavailable to attend.
China’s attempt to strike a security and trade deal with 10 Pacific island nations in May fueled concern in Washington and Canberra about Beijing’s military ambitions in the region, and prompted a boost in Western aid.
Those concerns were first sparked when Solomon Islands struck a security pact with China in April.
Chinese state media reported on Wednesday that China’s Minister for Public Security, Wang Xiaohong, had held the first minister-level dialog on police cooperation with some South Pacific countries.
The video meeting, co-chaired with Solomon Islands Minister of Police Anthony Veke, took place after two powerful earthquakes struck Solomon Islands on Tuesday.
A photograph posted to the Twitter account of the Chinese embassy in Fiji showed Veke as the only Pacific islands minister at the video meeting.
The heads of the police departments of Fiji, Vanuatu, Kiribati, Tonga and Papua New Guinea had attended, Xinhua reported.
Tonga’s Minister of Police and its Commissioner of Police, who is an Australian citizen, were unavailable, a Tonga police spokesperson told Reuters.
“There was another representative from Tonga,” she added.
Papua New Guinea’s Commissioner of Police also did not attend; the most populous South Pacific island was instead represented in the meeting by a police superintendent, a PNG police spokesperson told Reuters.
Papua New Guinea is negotiating a defense pact with Australia, while Fiji signed an agreement with Australia last month to allow the operation of each nation’s militaries in the other country.
At a White House summit in September, the United States pledged to boost aid and step up FBI training for Pacific islands including the Solomon Islands. (Reporting by Kirsty Needham. Editing by Gerry Doyle)