China said it held a video meeting to discuss police cooperation with a group of Pacific island nations on Tuesday, however at least two nations told Reuters their ministers and police commissioners had been unavailable to attend.
China’s attempt to strike a security and trade deal with 10 Pacific island nations in May fuelled 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 what it called the first minister-level dialogue on police cooperation with some south Pacific countries.
The video meeting – co-chaired by Solomon Islands’ minister of police, Anthony Veke – took place after two powerful earthquakes struck Solomon Islands on Tuesday.
Last month, a delegation of more than 30 Solomon Islands police officers travelled to China to undergo training for the first time, in a sign of deepening ties between the two countries.
A photograph posted to the Twitter account of the Chinese embassy in Fiji showed Veke as the only government minister from a Pacific island country at the video meeting.
The heads of the police departments of Fiji, Vanuatu, Kiribati, Tonga and Papua New Guinea 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 by a police superintendent, a PNG police spokesperson told Reuters.
At a White House summit in September, the United States pledged to boost aid and step up FBI training for Pacific islands including Solomon Islands.
Papua New Guinea is negotiating a defence pact with Australia, while Fiji signed an agreement with Australia last month to allow the operation of their militaries in each other’s country.