China yesterday said it hoped to expand newly restored ties with the Pacific state of Kiribati, site of a strategic, but mothballed Chinese space tracking station, in comments that might further stoke US anxiety about Beijing’s growing influence.
A senior Chinese diplomat said Beijing was “open” to all sorts of projects in Kiribati, an ex-British colony made up mainly of atolls in the central Pacific, in waters dominated by the US and its allies since World War II.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) yesterday lauded Kiribati for “standing on the right side of history” during his first meeting with Kiribatian President Taneti Maamau since his administration severed ties with Taiwan in September last year.
Responding to Xi, Maamau reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to the “one China” principle and expressed his “deepest respect” for the Chinese government’s sovereignty.
Speaking to reporters after the Xi-Maamau meeting, the diplomat, Department of North American and Oceanian Affairs Director Lu Kang (陸慷), did not respond directly to a question about whether Beijing planned to reopen the space tracking station.
“A lot of ideas, a lot of initiatives for joint ventures are still on the way,” said Lu, a former spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“So long as any ideas that could benefit both sides, especially both peoples on both sides, definitely China is open to these kind of ideas,” he said, without elaborating.
China’s space program is overseen by the military, which has so far declined to comment on the Kiribati facility.
Kiribati had established diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 2003, prompting a break with Beijing. Up until then, China had operated a space tracking station in Kiribati, which played a role in tracking China’s first crewed space flight and is in a part of the world where the US tests missiles and other military hardware.
Former Republic of China ambassador to Kiribati Abraham Chu (朱文祥) told the Central News Agency in Taipei last year that China had never fully removed the tracking station in Kiribati and that it “could come back at any time.”
Maamau and his delegation also met yesterday with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強).
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