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What Beijing's Fast Cash Can Buy: CCP Is Changing the Nature of Sovereignty

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China’s Aggression Is Changing the Nature of Sovereignty

Kiribati in the Pacific Islands is an object lesson
Anders Corr

November 26, 2021

News Analysis

mp3 PDF

Kiribati is dumping a 158,000-square-mile World Heritage marine reserve, the Pacific Islands Forum, and its friendship with Taiwan. Why? The archipelagic state is trading its sovereignty for Beijing’s fast cash.

The sovereignty of Kiribati, a nation of islands in the South Pacific between China and the United States, is being submerged not principally by the waves of global warming, as many fear, but by Beijing’s illiberal influence. Unlike the storms on a rising sea that build islands by successive layers of sand, Beijing is capturing Kiribati with waves of cash.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will not willingly return what it takes through purchase. So the citizens of Kiribati, and the rest of the world, must get much tougher, much more quickly, if we are to defend Kiribati’s democracy and sovereignty. What applies to Kiribati, the canary in a coal mine, will eventually apply to the capitals of Europe and North America.

This article uses the case of Kiribati to argue for what to this author’s knowledge is a philosophical first: support for an autocracy that seeks hegemony should void a country’s sovereignty. A similar approach should be taken to physical persons and corporations: support for hegemonic autocracy should be illegal and have criminal consequences.

Anyone who sells out democracy should go to prison, and any country that does the same will, one way or another, lose its sovereignty. Kiribati is an object lesson in this sad trend of contemporary international relations.

As preparation for breaking this new philosophical ground, consider these facts in the case of Kiribati.

The Case of Kiribati

On Nov. 11, exclusive reporting by 1News revealed documents that show the Kiribati government deregistering a World Heritage site that is a massive 158,000-square-mile marine reserve. The Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) will now be exploited by not only illegal, but commercial, fishing.

China, which engages in massive amounts of illegal fishing globally, facilitated by fossil fuel subsidies of its fishing fleet, will likely benefit from not only the exploitation of the newly vulnerable and pristine fishing grounds, but from their military potential. China’s PLA Air Force (PLAAF) and Navy (PLAN) could in particular use Kiribati’s prime military basing because it is adjacent to U.S. waters, and strategically located midway between Australia and Hawaii.

According to documents obtained by 1News, Kiribati’s cabinet informed PIPA that it would be deregistered. That confidential communication came in late October, and was only revealed publicly when New Zealand’s 1News discovered it this month.

Alex Gray, former U.S. National Security Council chief of staff and an expert on the Pacific Islands, responded to the news by saying that “China is the world’s greatest ecological menace, from its devastating illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing around the world, to its consistent undermining of global norms that protect delicate ecosystems like Antarctica and the deep seabed. The U.S. and its partners must confront China’s attack on the ecology of the world’s most vulnerable places and not remain silent on this defining issue.”

As Gray previously noted in The Diplomat, Beijing’s influence in the Pacific Islands is not only ecological, but political. The regime is inclined “to exert leverage over these tiny islands,” he wrote.

According to the 1News report by Barbara Dreaver, “There’s deep concern that the move [to deregister the reserve] has been driven by China. PIPA is attractive to China not only for its fishing wealth but its strategically significant location near US military installations.”

Defense analyst Anna Powles at Massey University in New Zealand told 1News that “Kiribati has real strategic value to China if it could potentially develop some strategic infrastructure on Kanton Island which has commercial fishery usage but potential military usage as well.”

Kanton Island was previously a U.S. and British military base, just 1,600 miles southwest of Hawaii. The United States used the tiny island—then spelled Canton after an American whaling ship that wrecked on the atoll in 1854—as an emergency air base and anti-ballistic missile tracking station.

In Violating Kiribati’s Sovereignty, Beijing Breaks China’s Promise of 1948

The United States voluntarily relinquished its military base on Kiribati’s Kanton atoll due to American ideals of a world of independent sovereign democracies, found in part within the 1948 U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The writing of that declaration was led by the United States and involved close participation from participants of France, Canada, nationalist China, and Lebanon. The formal drafting eventually enlarged to include Australia, Chile, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union. Nationalist China and the Soviet Union supported the declaration, which recognized democracy as a human right, arguably as part of the bargain that welcomed these autocracies into leadership positions of the international community.

Now Russia and communist China are going back on their word and rejecting this foundational United Nations document, on which other U.N. principles such as territorial integrity and non-interference that they sometimes support are predicated.

Beijing continues to grab the territory of its neighbors in Asia against international principles such as territorial integrity and exclusive economic zones (EEZs), and it flagrantly violates the 1948 declaration and international law against genocide.

Kiribati Would Make a Useful Chinese Military Base

On and around Kanton atoll and the other Pacific Islands, Beijing manifests its disregard for sovereignty through illegal fishing, the attempted bribing of entire democracies with millions of dollars in cash, and the use of Chinese funding for an upgraded airstrip that could be used by the PLAAF and PLAN as a convenient jumping-off spot for Hawaii.

The Chinese could use the Kiribati islands as it does its artificial islands in the South China Sea: as bases for missiles, bombers, jet fighters, submarines, and aircraft carriers. Kiribati extends China’s military reach uncomfortably close to Honolulu, which hosts the U.S. military headquarters for all of Asia. [More to see mp3 PDF ]

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