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China listened in to US at Pacific forum

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Against protocol, Chinese officials have appeared at the Pacific Islands Forum to listen to a major address by US Vice-President Kamala Harris.

On Wednesday morning, Ms Harris virtually addressed Pacific Islands Forum delegates, who have assembled in Suva for the annual leaders’ summit, at the invitation of PIF chair Fiji.

The invitation was a diplomatic coup for the US, which wants greater influence in the region after assertive diplomacy by China.

Ms Harris pledged a major boost to support and engagement in the Pacific, including new embassies in Kiribati and Tonga, other diplomatic postings, and an influx of US Peace Corps to the region.

The US has also trebled regional support through a renegotiated South Pacific Tuna Treaty, worth $US600 million ($893 million) over the next 10 years.

“The history and the future of the Pacific Islands and the United States are inextricably linked. We have historic bonds going back generations,” she said.

“We recognise in recent years the Pacific Islands may not have received the diplomatic attention and support that you deserve.

“Today I am here to tell you directly we are going to change that.”

Ms Harris’ address ran against the forum tradition of not allowing greater powers – known as dialogue partners – to take part in its proceedings.

China was plainly keen to hear the speech, dispatching two officials to the forum. Neither was credentialled.

It is unclear whether they were unauthorised to be at the speech, which was not delivered to leaders but to a forum fishing subcommittee as Ms Harris discussed a renegotiated tuna treaty agreement.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong and New Zealand counterpart Nanaia Mahuta were also there.

A response is expected from Beijing, which fell short in its effort to schedule meetings during the leaders’ summit this week.

Asked earlier on Wednesday if the invitation to the US was a snub to China, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said it was the forum’s decision.

– AAP