Media who were invited to cover Chinese President Xi Jinping’s meeting with Pacific leaders have been denied entry by Chinese officials.
As part of Mr Xi’s first state visit to Papua New Guinea, he hosted a working dinner with the leaders of eight Pacific Island nations that support the “One China” policy: PNG, Cook Islands, Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia, Niue, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu.
The meeting and the President’s visit come at a time when the strategic importance of the Pacific is growing, and multiple countries – including China and Australia – are vying for influence in the region.
Local and international media, including the ABC, had been invited to cover the Pacific Islander Leaders meeting, but when journalists and camera operators arrived at the hotel where it was being held they were told to leave.
Gorethy Kenneth from the Post Courier newspaper said Chinese officials from Beijing were initially angry with the presence of international media.
“I said: ‘We are here to cover the meeting, our names have been submitted.’ And they said: ‘No, all of you get out.'” Kenneth said.
“That’s when it all got fired up.”
Kenneth said members of the Chinese media were allowed in to the meeting.
Other media who arrived later were not even allowed in the building.
The ABC and other local media had registered through the PNG Government to cover the President’s visit in advance and had been issued with special passes.
Some local media described the reaction as a “slap in the face”.
“It’s quite disappointing because as Pacific Islanders, for a meeting as big as this, and PNG being the host country, we were all looking forward to covering this,” said Helen Tarawa Rei, a senior reporter with PNG’s The National newspaper.
“To be told that we’re not allowed is undermining our press freedom, we have press freedom in this country.”
An ABC camera operator who was filming the press being rejected was then threatened by a local security officer.
“We were quite surprised because we want to hear a lot of the things that are happening there with the Pacific Islander leaders, our Prime Minister and the Chinese President, and unfortunately we weren’t allowed and we’re just wondering why,” Tarawa Rei said.
The Chinese delegation was controlling media access throughout Mr Xi’s visit.
At a ceremony to open a road in Port Moresby, media were told they were not allowed to connect to an audio splitter box to record the speeches, with only China’s CCTV network granted access.
Members of the media were then told they were not even allowed to put microphones up to a speaker to record the sound.
“We were told not to record, not to put our recorders or mobile phones near the speaker,” Tarawa Rei said.
Port Moresby airport staff say Chinese have meddled before
The ABC understands some PNG Government staff were also unhappy with how the Chinese delegation was controlling the events.
It is not the first instance of Chinese officials controlling media access in PNG.
Last month the ABC and local station NBC were escorted off the airport runway while trying to film the arrival of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Once again, the media had been invited to the event. Several airport security staff said the media were being removed at the request of the Chinese embassy.
As the Pacific Island leaders meeting got underway in Port Moresby, media were being bussed away from the site.
Local journalists in particular were furious.
“Our people need to know what’s happening,” Tarawa Rei said.
“So for that kind of treatment — it’s pretty shocking for us.”