Former Kiribati president Anote Tong suspects a major agreement is “cooking” between Beijing and Tarawa after the country’s decision to quit the Pacific Islands Forum.
Kiribati President Taneti Maamau’s “surprise” announcement to abandon its membership from the region’s premier policy and political body at the 51st Forum Leaders’ meeting this week has heightened concerns the Micronesian nation is moving closer to China.
The Phoenix Islands Protected Area is the largest designated marine protected area in the world, spanning almost 400,000 sq km in the South Pacific Ocean, midway between Australia and Hawaii.
Sources have told RNZ Pacific that a possible deal may include exclusive access to Chinese vessels to the Protected Area.
Tong believed the move by the Maamau government suggested that it hoped to “gain from being isolated from the region” by striking a deal directly with China.