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China's Xi is making a print in the Pacific; score's own goals “with media blocks

PORT MORESBY (Reuters) – President Xi Jinping attempted to expand China's influence in the Pacific on Friday, with a forum…

PORT MORESBY (Reuters) – President Xi Jinping attempted to expand China’s influence in the Pacific on Friday, with a forum of leaders for eight small island countries in Papua New Guinea.

China President Xi Jinping inspects the Honorary Guard in Parliament in Port Moresby on November 1

6, 2018, before the Asia-Pacific Summit (APEC). Saeed Khan / Pool via REUTERS

But Chinese officials prevented most media, including reporters from the Pacific, from the forum where Xi met leaders from Cook Islands, Fiji, Micronesia, Niue, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu, as well as Papua New Guinea , in the capital Port Moresby before a summit in APEC this weekend.

China’s efforts to win friends in the resurrected Pacific region have been checked with the traditional influential forces in the region – Australia, New Zealand and the United States – which were not invited to the Friday forum.

However, too many journalists’ disappointment to report China’s role in the region, Chinese officials blocked access to all media, in addition to a small list of points of sale, with reference to space and security.

Many of the omitted mumbled about what they saw as lack of transparency about China’s efforts to get new allies.

“It just sends such a horrible signal,” said Jonathan Pryke of the Sydney-based tanker Lowy Institute.

“It just seems like they are trying to buy influence but not build influence,” he said, referring to Chinese support to the region.

Dozens of accredited journalists were rejected despite being invited to attend PNG officials, who also arranged transport to the well-guarded forum.

Chinese officials said they had not been informed of the host’s plans and had to limit the media numbers.

An official suggested reporters could look up reports on the forum published by China’s state press office Xinhua.

Lina Keapu, photojournalist on PNG’s Sunday Chronicle newspaper, said there was a “blow to the face”.

“As local media, we should be there and cover it and get the news to our national audience,” she said.

Pita Ligaiula, a journalist with the Pacific News Association, based in Fiji, said that Chinese influence was one of the major issues affecting the region and it was important to be able to inform the public about its intentions.

“I’m coming all the way from Fiji just to know we’re not invited to cover this,” he said.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond immediately to the request for comments.

Pryke said that China had made a “own goal” by “marginalizing domestic media in their own country” when they could have expected very positive coverage from the event.

Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield and Philip Wen in PORT MORESBY; Editing Robert Birsel

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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