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China wants direct air link with French Polynesia, says Consul

Wednesday 1 November 2023 | Written by RNZ | Published in French Polynesia, Regional


China wants direct air link with French Polynesia, says Consul
China’s Consul in French Polynesia, Tian Lixiao (R), poses with French Polynesia’s Vice-President Eliane Tevahitua. Photo: French Polynesia’s Presidency/23110103

In a rare interview, China’s Consul in French Polynesia, Tian Lixiao has told local media his country was in favour of a direct air link with Tahiti. He also shared his country's views on a wide range of topics directly affecting the Pacific region.

Tian arrived in Papeete just a year ago for a three-year posting.

The publication of his interview in local daily La Dépêche de Tahiti came just a few days ahead of the visit of Paris-based US Ambassador Denise Campbell Bauer as part of a one-week tour of the French Pacific.

Asked about the worldwide perception of an increasingly tense struggle for power between China and the United States, including in the Pacific region, he replied: "I don't think there is a struggle for influence in this region or anywhere else for that matter, these are ideas that have been created by outsiders."

"China's aspiration is to seek a common development with shared benefits (...) There are common issues and we need to address them together. This is the logic that drives our wish to develop cooperation with Pacific countries".

Asked whether China was providing support to pro-independence movements in the French Pacific, including New Caledonia, he said Beijing was applying a policy of non-interference and that "China just wants good relations with local governments of the day".

He also rejected as "irresponsible and defamatory" accusations of overfishing in the Pacific Ocean by Chinese fishing boats.

He similarly denied that a recent Chinese-driven initiative to establish an aqua farming project in Hao atoll had any geopolitical motives due to the unusual length of the existing air strip.

The project did not eventuate, for lack of approval by local authorities and the Chinese promoters were now believed to be seeking to set up their aqua farm in other Pacific islands.

"We have neither the intention nor the will to play geopolitical games in the region", he stressed.

On future tourism development projects, Tian told local media his country was in favour of the establishment of a direct air link between China and Tahiti and that steps were being taken in that direction.

The matter was discussed recently with French Polynesia's President Moetai Brotherson, he said.

But even though an in-principle agreement on the matter was signed in 2014, some issues remained to be sorted out to lure more Chinese tourists to these French Pacific islands, such as the issuance of visas and the long distance, flight duration.

Touching on the special relations with French Polynesia's affluent community of Chinese ascent, which is regarded as well-integrated in the social, cultural, economic and political fabric, he said Chinese culture was still very much alive and that he was exchanging with them "very often" and "on many topics".

"They are proud of their Chinese origins, even though they are 3rd, 4th and 5th generation descendants from the original migrants over 150 years ago, they maintain very strong links with China, especially on the cultural and historical sides. And most importantly, they are a very strong and precious bridge in the China-French Polynesia friendship", the diplomat added.

He recalled the Chinese consulate in French Polynesia was established in 2007.

"And since then we have been maintaining a good dialogue with the local government and the French High Commission. We exchange a lot", he said.