China defends Pacific relationships

The Chinese Government has defended its relationship with the Pacific, in the first of the year’s press conference with China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying.

Speaking to the media on Monday, Ms. Hua said reports of Chinese workers on Belt and Road Initiative projects being ordered to return home last year are “nothing but ill-intentioned fake news.”

She was responding to a question from Shenzhen TV, who also alleged China had reduced diplomatic staff in 10 Pacific countries after COVID-19 broke out, and that the country has not being supporting the region to cope with the pandemic.

“In fact, cooperation between China and Pacific island countries has become even closer,” Ms. Hua said. 

“Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Chinese diplomats in Pacific island countries have honored their commitment to ‘diplomacy for the people,’ provided quality service to Chinese citizens overseas and worked diligently to guarantee the normal exchanges and cooperation between the two sides, including on B.R.I. cooperation. 

“The Chinese embassy in Kiribati was reopened in May and the Chinese embassy in the Solomon Islands was opened in September 2020, a solid testament to how China values its relations with Pacific island countries.”

The two embassies were opened under much scrutiny, after the two island nations undid their diplomatic ties to Taiwan in favour of developing their relationship with China.

The moves were seen by many as signs of Beijing’s growing influence in the region. 

In August, the reopening of the embassy in Kiribati in August was met with some uproar online after a photo surfaced of the new ambassador Tang Songgen walking on people’s backs during the welcoming ceremony.

Ms. Hua also highlighted China’s COVID-19 support to the region. She reminded that the country held  video conferences with health experts across its 10 Pacific partner countries in March, and has been dispersing funding too.

Samoa, like other countries in the region, has received medical supplies from China, and in late 2020 a new team of Chinese doctors arrived to take up their post at the National Hospital across five different specialties.

“Speaking of China's support to Pacific island countries amid the pandemic, China initiated video conferences of health experts with 10 Pacific island countries in March, 2020 to share its experience in epidemic prevention and control and diagnosis and treatment to help them deal with the pandemic. 

“China has set up the China-Pacific Island Countries COVID-19 Response Fund and later provided additional funding three times. 

“The central government, local governments like the Guangdong provincial government, businesses and non-governmental organizations have donated substantial anti-epidemic supplies to Pacific island countries. 

“According to available data, the Chinese government and society have so far donated over one million masks, 100,000 protective suits and 23,000 protective face shields and goggles, which plays an important role in assisting in Pacific island countries' response to the pandemic.”

Ms. Hua said China will “readily consider” sharing COVID-19 vaccines in the Pacific depending on their needs.

“In 2021, upholding the vision of a community with a shared future for mankind, China will continue to work together with Pacific island countries to fight the virus and overcome difficulties, deepen comprehensive strategic partnership between the two sides and deliver more benefits to the two peoples.”

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