- It may have been a customary welcome for dignitaries, but an incident involving China’s ambassador has turned the spotlight on Beijing’s influence in a Pacific nation that needs funds for an urgent island-raising project.
US and Australian officials have been quick to express outrage over an image shared on social media showing the Chinese ambassador to the Pacific island nation of Kiribati walking across the backs of locals lying face down on the ground.
Commander Constantine Panayiotou, the US defense attaché to Kiribati, tweeted: “I simply cannot imagine any scenario in which walking on the backs of children is acceptable behavior by an ambassador of any country (or any adult for that matter).”
But many in Kiribati said the practice is customary and that the image featuring China’s ambassador Tang Songgen, on his arrival on the island of Marakei, had been taken out of context.
“The Marakei people can welcome dignitaries any way they like and it’s well known that they follow many of the customs of their land,” said Katerina Teaiwa, an associate professor at the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific, whose father is from Kiribati.