China Sends a Plane Message

Dr James Kierstead
Insights Newsletter
5 April, 2024

It was a picture worth a thousand words. Four or five stooped, scared-looking figures on an aeroplane, black hoods over their heads. On each side, for rows and rows behind and in front of them, uniformed Chinese police officers. 

The accompanying video footage, obtained by 60 Minutes, was even more concerning. Dozens of armed police forced their way into apartments, rounded up and hooded suspects, and marched them onto planes.  

This would have been bad enough had it been taking place in China. 

But this happened in Fiji, an independent state some 9,000 km away from China’s south coast. 

Worse, as the Australian National University’s Graeme Smith said, the officers are shown ‘behaving as though they are in China.’ 

Around 80 suspects were taken into custody by the Chinese officers, allegedly for cyber-crimes. But China has been known to imprison bloggers. It leads the world in the number of journalists currently behind bars. 

The images should act as a further wake-up call about Chinese incursions into the Pacific. 

In 2018, the Australian press reported that China had requested permission to build military bases in Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea. In 2019, the Solomon Islands signed a security agreement with China, prompting fears that China could seek to build a base there.  

New Zealand has long tried to woo China, becoming the first Western country to support China’s accession to the World Trade Organisation (in 1997) and to sign a free-trade agreement with China (2008). 

In the last few years, New Zealand has changed its stance. It now looks very unlikely that we will ever join the Belt and Road Initiative. 

The recent images from Fiji should also end any remaining complacency when it comes to China’s intentions in the Pacific.  

New Zealand is still the go-to ally for many smaller Pacific nations. We directly administer Tokelau and are in free association with the Cook Islands and Niue, providing funding and security and extending citizenship and other rights to the islanders.  

Auckland has the largest Polynesian population of any city in the world. Rugby and religion provide further ties. 

But there is no space for complacency. If New Zealand fails to act as a reliable partner in the Pacific, the Chinese Communist Party will be only too happy to fill that gap. And fill more planes with police officers.  

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