he tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru, with a population of just 11,000 people, has found itself in a big diplomatic spat, facing off against China (pop. 1.38 billion).
This week, Nauru is hosting the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), an annual gathering of leaders of 18 countries in the Pacific, along with delegations from other nations with interests in the area, including the United States and China. China’s delegation is led this year by Du Qiwen, the country’s ambassador to Fiji.
The forum got off to quite a heated start on Tuesday at a closed-door meeting with Du reportedly trying to speak on the issue of climate change and Nauru’s president, Baron Waqa, charging him talking out of turn.
“The Chinese demanded to be heard when (Tuvalu’s) prime minister was about to speak,” Waqa said in a news conference afterward.
“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. So maybe because he was from a big country he wanted to bully us.”
Sources told the Guardian that Du and the China delegation went so far as to take a lap while storming out of the meeting: “Finally, he was fuming, shouted at them very loudly and angrily, stood up and stormed out, but instead of heading for the nearest exit, he did a lap of the whole conference table to indicate his fury with each person.”
Islands Business has been sent a video of the clash at the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Nauru yesterday between Forum chair and President of Nauru, Baron Waqa and a member of the Chinese delegation. The delegate stormed out of the meeting soon after this video was taken. pic.twitter.com/kH6HlVHGcr
— Islands Business (@IBIupdate) September 5, 2018
As you might expect, this dispute is about more than just proper protocol. China and Taiwan are currently waging a costly diplomatic war in the Pacific, vying for the favor of the tiny island nations located there. At this time, just 17 countries still have official ties with Taiwan, six of them are PIF members, including both Nauru and Tuvalu.
Tensions flared before the forum even began with Nauru attempting to force the Chinese delegation to enter the country on their personal passports, rather than their diplomatic ones. The move drew threats of a boycott from other attendees with ties to Beijing. Eventually, Nauru backed down.
At a press conference in Beijing on Wednesday, China Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying rejected the notion that the China delegation had done anything wrong, instead blaming Nauru for the dispute.
“Nauru, as the host of the forum, violated international norms and the rules of the forum, and put on a clumsy farce,” she said.