Australia’s ongoing struggles with Kiribati

The Australian newswire service, AAP, has reported Australian officials are being frozen out of Kiribati as the country is courted by China.

Quoting a senior foreign affairs official, it said visa applications dragged on or were denied while work on a treaty with Kiribati has been indefinitely put on ice.

This came as the country prepares to go to elections after a fractious second term in power for President Taneti Maamau.

Maamau oversaw an almost complete shut down of the judiciary with the removal of five expatriate judges on spurious grounds.

In 2022, Maamau had orchestrated a switch in Kiribati’s allegiance from Taiwan to Beijing.

AAP reported that an Australian Navy officer, who helped oversee the operations of a Guardian patrol boat gifted by Australia to the Kiribati police force, was also deported and banned for two years after handing in paperwork late.

It said a final text for a new comprehensive bilateral strategic partnership agreement was supposed to have been agreed by July 2023 under a memorandum of understanding signed earlier that year.

But discussions had been shelved at Kiribati’s behest, with the president wanting to wait until a new government is elected.

The memorandum, which has not been made public but has been seen by AAP, included a section about Australia working in partnership with Kiribati on border and policing.

It also involved a commitment to expand the police barracks and support for the local service, including training.

However, uniformed Chinese police officers have been involved in community policing and training since at least early 2024, despite Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Pat Conroy’s, warning there was no role for China to play in policing throughout the region.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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