China said it held a video meeting on Tuesday to discuss police cooperation with several Pacific island countries, with at least two countries telling Reuters their ministers and police commissioners were unavailable to attend.
China’s attempt to strike a security and trade deal with 10 Pacific island nations in May fueled concerns in Washington and Canberra about Beijing’s military ambitions and prompted a surge in Western aid.
Those concerns were first sparked when the Solomon Islands entered into a security pact with China in April.
Chinese state media reported on Wednesday that Chinese Public Security Minister Wang Xiaohong held the first ministerial-level dialogue on police cooperation with some South Pacific countries.
The video meeting, co-chaired with Solomon Islands Police Minister Anthony Veke, came after two powerful earthquakes hit the Solomon Islands on Tuesday.
A photo posted on the Chinese Embassy in Fiji’s Twitter account showed Veke as the only minister from the Pacific Islands at the video meeting.
Police chiefs from Fiji, Vanuatu, Kiribati, Tonga and Papua New Guinea attended.
Tonga’s police minister and its police commissioner, who is an Australian citizen, were unavailable, a Tonga police spokeswoman told Reuters.
“There was another representative from Tonga,” she added.
The Papua New Guinea Police Commissioner was also not present; the South Pacific’s most populous island was instead represented at the meeting by a police commissioner, a PNG police spokesman told Reuters.
Papua New Guinea is negotiating a defense pact with Australia, while Fiji signed an agreement with Australia last month to allow each nation’s armies to operate in the other country.
At a White House summit in September, the United States pledged to increase aid and step up FBI training for the Pacific Islands, including the Solomon Islands.