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Exclusive: China plans to revive strategic Pacific airstrip, Kiribati lawmaker says By Reuters

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Students holding nationwide flags of China and Kiribati look ahead to a welcoming ceremony for Kiribati’s President Taneti Maamau on the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China January 6, 2020. REUTERS/Jason Lee

By Jonathan Barrett

SYDNEY (Reuters) – China has drawn up plans to improve an airstrip and bridge on one among Kiribati’s distant islands about 3,000km southwest of Hawaii, lawmakers advised Reuters, in a bid to revive a web site that hosted army plane throughout World War Two.

The plans, which haven’t been made public, contain development on the tiny island of Kanton (additionally spelled Canton), a coral atoll strategically situated halfway between Asia and the Americas.

Kiribati opposition lawmaker Tessie Lambourne advised Reuters she was involved concerning the challenge, and wished to know whether or not it was a part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

“The government hasn’t shared the cost and other details other than it’s a feasibility study for the rehabilitation of the runway and bridge,” Lambourne advised Reuters. “The opposition will be seeking more information from government in due course.”

The workplace of Kiribati President Taneti Maamau didn’t reply to questions.

The Chinese overseas ministry didn’t instantly reply to questions.

Despite being small, Kiribati, a nation of 120,000 residents, controls one of many greatest unique financial zones on the earth, overlaying greater than 3.5 million sq. kilometres of the Pacific.

Any important build-up on Kanton, situated 3,000 kilometres (1,864 miles) southwest of Hawaii and U.S. army bases there, would provide a foothold to China deep into territory that had been firmly aligned to the U.S. and its allies since World War Two.

“The island would be a fixed aircraft carrier,” stated one adviser to Pacific governments, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the challenge.

The U.S. Navy’s seventh Fleet and U.S. State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs didn’t instantly reply to requests for remark.

Kiribati (pronounced Kiribas) has lately been on the centre of a tussle between China and the U.S. and its Pacific allies.

In late 2019 it severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favour of China, in a choice overseen by Maamau, who went on to win a carefully contested election on a pro-China platform.

The diplomatic shift, which mirrored occasions within the Solomon Islands, was a setback for self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as a province with no proper to state-to-state ties. Taiwan counts the U.S. as an vital worldwide backer and provider of arms.

Kanton has been utilized by the U.S. for house and missile monitoring operations and its close to 2-kilometre (6,562 ft) runway hosted long-range bombers in the course of the warfare.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) stated in a paper final 12 months that Chinese amenities on Kiribati could be positioned throughout main sea lanes between North America, and Australia and New Zealand.

Beijing has labelled the assume tank as “anti-China”.

Along with its strategic significance, the waters round Kanton are wealthy in fish, together with tuna, though business fishing is prohibited because the island is in a marine protected zone.

There are round two dozen residents on Kanton who depend on subsistence fishing and provide ships.

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