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Marshall Islands condemns Chinese coercion in the Pacific

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SUVA (RNZ Pacific) — The continued bullying and intimidation tactics by China must stop, says a senior Marshall Islands official.

The call comes amid revelations this week of a brawl between staff from the Taiwan Trade Mission and the Chinese Embassy in Fiji.

A Taiwanese diplomat was hospitalized following an alleged altercation with the Chinese officials during the Taiwan national day event in Suva earlier this month.

The Marshall Islands is one of four Pacific island countries with diplomatic links to Taiwan

Its Ambassador to Fiji, Albon Ishoda, attended the function on 8 October but said he did not witness the incident.

Ishoda said he was even disappointed at China's presence at the event and “their claims their officials were provoked.”

“It's borderline intimidation to anyone who wants to celebrate with the Taiwanese,” he said.

“I just find it a bit of a nuisance that they being there sends perhaps some signals to whoever is attending that may care about how they view that.”

Fiji's government said it has not received any communication from the Taiwan Office or the Chinese Embassy over the matter.

While Fiji is a long-time ally of Beijing, Taiwan has maintained a trade office in the capital.

Taipei has also sought to raise its profile by investing in education and agriculture.

Fiji police confirmed on Tuesday the Chinese embassy had lodged a complaint over an alleged assault on October 8.

But the police statement did not mention Taiwan's grievances. 

Police also said it would not be conducting further investigations as “the matter is now being handled at the diplomatic level as agreed to by all parties involved.”

Earlier, Taiwan claimed when police arrived at the scene of the incident, the Chinese embassy staff refused to assist their investigation on the grounds of “diplomatic immunity.”

Ambassador Ishoda said diplomatic immunity was a privilege.

“It's not a right and everyone one given that privilege should act accordingly to the laws of the country.”

The Chinese embassy said its officials were carrying out normal duties and complained a cake at the event was decorated to look like Taiwan's flag.

Beijing said it saw the reception as a political threat.

At the heart of the matter was a long-standing conflict over the status of Taiwan — a self-governing island of 24 million people that China claims as its territory.

Fears of a military conflict have grown as Beijing has increased the frequency of live-fire drills and adopted a more aggressive tone.

China has also objected to Taipei's efforts to forge formal diplomatic relations with Pacific countries.

It said Taiwan is a province of China with no right to full ties with foreign countries.

But the Marshall Islands criticized China's continued objection to Taiwan's efforts to forge formal relations with Pacific countries.

Ambassador Ishoda said this was not the first time Chinese government officials had been seen at Taiwan's national day celebrations in Suva.

“I've witnessed personally Chinese officials standing outside the venue, I gather, collecting information on whoever is going inside the venue.”

Ishoda said the Marshall Islands will continue to recognize the democratic government of Taiwan.

With the matter now being elevated to the diplomatic level, Ishoda said he wants to see peaceful dialogue between all parties involved. 

“Whether we agree to issues or not, we want to see peaceful dialogue continue to take place. Whether they take place in Beijing, Taipei or elsewhere.

“We encourage that at the highest level possible.”

Ambassador Ishoda said he hoped this would be the last of this type of incidents.

But he said one thing's for sure, the Marshall Islands will be represented in Suva at Taiwan's national day celebrations

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