Kiribati Opens Up World's Largest Marine Reserve Amid Reports China Might Have Influenced the Move
© Google EarthKiribati's Kanton Island, an atoll located 5,280 miles southeast of Hong Kong, 1,850 miles southwest of Hawaii, and 800 miles north of the US territory of American Samoa. Its derelict airstrip is located in the northwest corner.
© Google Earth
In 2006, the Pacific Island nation of Kiribati had banned fishing and other economic activities in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), dubbed as the planet's last intact coral archipelago. China has been expanding its outreach in the Pacific by chairing the first ever foreign ministers' meeting with Pacific Island countries on 21 October.
On Monday, Kiribati lifted the closure of the world's largest marine reserves, the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, to commercial fishing.
In a statement, the government later said it had applied Marine Spatial Planning to use marine resources in the PIPA sustainably.
Kiribati banned fishing in the PIPA in 2006 amid assurance from its international partners that they would compensate them for the lost income (70% of the island's total revenue) through the establishment of a trust.
"It is abundantly clear that the development policy logic at the inception (no take zone), however innovative and well-intended, will not be sufficient to meet the present need of the people of Kiribati now and development needs of the country for the future," the Kiribati government explained behind the lifting of curb on fishing.
It is reported that the Kiribati government aimed to earn over $200 million a year in tuna fishing licences. The economies of Pacific island countries received significant growth in the backdrop of a massive jump in seafood exports to countries like Japan, Thailand, the Philippines, China, and the US.
The ADB data shows that pacific countries like Fiji have exported seafood amounting to around $200 million, Papua New Guinea ($470 million), Vanuatu ($108 million) and Solomon Islands ($101 million).
Once dominated by the US and Japan in fishing activities, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission data suggests a jump of over 500% in China's Pacific fishing fleet since 2012. Around half of the total 1300 foreign-operated ships licensed to fish in the area are of China.
8 October 2021, 07:41 GMT
On 21 October, China held the first foreign ministers' meeting with the Pacific Island Countries, saying "it will continue to support and assist Pacific Island Countries as it can in economic development and livelihood improvement".
1 News of New Zealand reported earlier this week that Kiribati might lift the restriction under the influence of China.
However, Kiribati on Monday categorically refuted the charges, saying these assumptions are "extremely misleading, grossly inaccurate and exhibit the usual hypocritical narratives driven by neo-colonial percepts".
Taneti Maamau, President of Kiribati, which has fewer than 120 thousand inhabitants, had already allowed China to develop farming activities on 22 square km of land in Fiji, which Tarawa purchased in 2014.
Maamau had ended the recognition of Taiwan in 2019 in favour of re-establishing diplomatic ties with China; since then, the relationship between Beijing and Tarawa has been expanding rapidly. China has contributed over $10 million in aid to Kiribati this year, twice Taiwan's annual allocation.
Earlier this May, Reuters reported that China plans to redevelop Kanton, one of the Kiribati islands, which is 1,600 nautical miles southwest of Hawaii, with an airstrip and bridges.
Hawaii is home to the US Pacific Command and Pearl Harbor Navy base. Beijing soon clarified the repairs were for civilian use, as the island had once been a tourist hub.