Tensions run high over China and refugees
Nauru — Tensions over China and refugees ran high Tuesday at a meeting of Pacific leaders after host Nauru accused a Chinese official of bullying and temporarily detained a New Zealand journalist.
Nauru is hosting the Pacific Islands Forum, which is being attended this week by leaders from 18 member nations and delegations from other countries including the U.S. and China.
Nauru recognizes Taiwan and doesn’t have diplomatic relations with China.
After a closed-door meeting at the forum on Tuesday, Nauru President Baron Waqa said a Chinese official had demanded to be heard when other leaders were due to speak.
“And he insisted, and was very insolent about it, and created a big fuss and held up the meeting of leaders for a good number of minutes when he was only an official,” Waqa said. “Maybe because he was from a big country he wanted to bully us.”
Even before the forum started there had been tensions with China after some other nations threatened to pull out following a dispute over whether Chinese officials could use their diplomatic passports to enter Nauru. Waqa said it had all been a misunderstanding, and that officials from both countries often traveled to the other country using ordinary passports.
Nauru has been eager to limit discussion during the forum of the more than 600 refugees who live on the tiny island, and has placed restrictions on visiting journalists reporting on topics outside the forum.
Nauru police detained 1 News journalist Barbara Dreaver for about three hours and revoked her forum accreditation after she was spotted interviewing a refugee outside a local restaurant.
Dreaver said she was just doing her job.
“I was under the impression, and I know, we were allowed to talk to refugees,” Dreaver said. “I think it probably shows things are a wee bit sensitive here, in fact a lot sensitive.”
Waqa disputed whether Dreaver was detained, saying she’d been taken to the police station for questioning and had cooperated. He said she breached protocols by not asking permission to speak to refugees in the high-tension environment.
“The media coming are not interested in the Pacific, but interested in something else,” Waqa said. “We knew this all along, and it’s sad.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a statement that she was pleased that Dreaver had been released.
“This government believes in freedom of the press, throughout the world, and of course that includes the entire Pacific region,” Ardern said.
Ardern is due to join the forum for its final day on Wednesday. She has faced some criticism at home for the extra cost to taxpayers of flying her to Nauru separately after the rest of her delegation had arrived so she wouldn’t have to be away as long from her infant daughter Neve.
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