Sat, Nov 17, 2018 - Page 1 News List

Xi meets Pacific leaders, but blocks media

Reuters, PORT MORESBY

Chinese President Xi Jinping, second left, yesterday inspects a guard of honor at Parliament House in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

Photo: AFP

Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) yesterday made a push to expand China’s influence in the Pacific, holding a forum with leaders of eight small island nations in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

However, Chinese officials barred most media, including reporters from the Pacific, from the forum at which Xi met leaders from the Cook Islands, Fiji, Micronesia, Niue, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu and PNG in Port Moresby ahead of this weekend’s APEC summit.

China’s efforts to win friends in the Pacific have been watched warily by the traditionally influential powers in the region — Australia, New Zealand and the US — who were not invited to the forum.

However, to the disappointment of many of the journalists there to report on China’s role in the region, Chinese officials barred access to all media, apart from a small list of outlets, citing space and security concerns.

Many of those left out grumbled about what they saw as a lack of transparency around China’s efforts to gain new allies.

“It just sends such a terrible signal,” said Jonathan Pryke of the Sydney-based think tank the Lowy Institute. “It just seems like they are trying to buy influence, but not build influence.”

Dozens of accredited journalists were turned away despite being invited to attend by PNG officials, who also arranged transportation to the well-guarded venue.

Chinese officials said they had not been informed of the host’s plans and had to limit media numbers.

One official said that journalists could look out for reports on the forum published by China’s Xinhua news agency.

Lina Keapu, a photojournalist for PNG’s Sunday Chronicle, said it was a “slap in the face.”

“As the local media, we should be there covering it and getting the news to our national public,” she said.

Pita Ligaiula, a journalist with the Pacific Island News Association, based in Fiji, said that Chinese influence was among the big issues affecting the region and it was important to be able to inform the public about its intentions.

“I come all the way from Fiji only to be told we are not invited to cover this,” he said.

Pryke said that China had scored an “own-goal” by “marginalizing domestic media” when they could have anticipated plenty of positive coverage from the event.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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