Start of Pacific summit marred by walkout

YAREN (Nauru) • The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) in Nauru began in dramatic fashion yesterday, with Chinese diplomats storming out of a meeting and a New Zealand journalist detained for interviewing refugees held on the island nation.

After a low-key opening ceremony on Monday, tensions erupted almost as soon as formal business commenced yesterday, when China's envoy Du Qiwen attempted to address a climate change meeting. The meeting's chairman, Nauru President Baron Waqa, stopped him from talking, prompting Mr Du and the rest of the Chinese delegation to walk out.

It highlighted sensitivities over Beijing's rising influence in the region, where Nauru backs Taiwan in the battle for diplomatic recognition.

A few hours later, there was a media row after police took TVNZ journalist Barbara Dreaver into custody as she was interviewing an asylum-seeker held on the island under Australia's hardline immigration policies. The plight of the refugees, particularly children, has threatened to overshadow the summit, despite attempts by the Nauru authorities to control visiting journalists.

Ms Dreaver said she was held for three hours, her footage was confiscated and her PIF media accreditation was revoked.

The Nauru government said the only restrictions it had placed on journalists were for safety reasons.

The controversies have left Nauru struggling over the 18-nation summit. It was revealed yesterday the China issue almost derailed the entire event, when some member nations threatened a boycott over Nauru's treatment of Beijing's delegation.

Nauru refused to stamp entry visas into Chinese diplomatic passports, instead saying it would only process their personal passports. It provoked a furious response from other PIF members, many of whom receive development aid and concessional loans from Beijing.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2018, with the headline 'Start of Pacific summit marred by walkout'. Print Edition | Subscribe