‘No role’ for China in Pacific policing, Australian minister says

By Thomson Reuters Feb 29, 2024 | 12:08 AM

By Kirsty Needham

CANBERRA (Reuters) – Australia’s Pacific Minister Pat Conroy said there should be “no role” for China in policing the Pacific Islands, and Australia will train more local security forces to fill gaps, after Reuters reported Chinese police are working in Kiribati.

The United States on Monday cautioned Pacific Islands nations against assistance from Chinese security forces, after

Kiribati’s acting police commissioner Eeri Aritiera told Reuters last week that uniformed Chinese officers were working with its police in community policing and a crime database program.

There are no Australian police in Kiribati, although Canberra has pledged to fund a new police radio network, police barracks and two maritime security advisors are supporting Kiribati police to maintain a donated patrol boat.

Kiribati is a nation of 115,000 people whose closest island is 2,160 km (1,340 miles) south of Honolulu, and the news of Chinese police working there comes as Beijing renews a push to expand security ties in the Pacific Islands in an intensifying rivalry with the United States.

“We are aware that they [China] are seeking a greater security role in the Pacific and we have been consistent in our view that there is no role for China in policing, or broader security, in the Pacific,” Conroy said in an interview with Reuters on Thursday.

Pacific Island leaders had agreed in 2022 at a meeting of the Pacific Island Forum regional bloc to fill any security gaps from within the “Pacific family”, he said.

Chinese police have been deployed in the Solomon Islands since 2022.

Conroy said Australia would like to see police from Papua New Guinea, Fiji and other Pacific nations play a greater role in assisting island neighbours with security, as they had done for December’s Pacific Games in Solomon Islands.

Canberra is funding a regional police training centre in Papua New Guinea for this purpose, he said.

“That is a model going forward – when the Pacific comes together to support the security needs and aspirations of other Pacific countries. Australia plays a role, but we may not always lead it,” he said.

The U.S. State Department on Monday cautioned Pacific Island countries against importing security forces from China which “risks fueling regional and international tensions”, and several U.S. Senators also expressed concern about Chinese police in Kiribati.

China has not responded to a Reuters request for comment on the role of its police in Kiribati.

China’s ambassador to Australia said last month that China had a strategy to form policing ties with Pacific Island countries to help maintain social order and this should not cause Australia anxiety.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Michael Perry)