Chinese ambassador's visit to Kiribati islands shows respect, understanding: Embassy

Source: Global Times Published: 2020/8/25 0:39:51

China’s Embassy to Kiribati said Monday that Ambassador Tang Songgen’s visit to three islands in early August deepened the understanding of islanders’ needs, refuting controversial statements about a photo showing the ambassador stepping on the back of a row of local men in a traditional welcoming ceremony.

On the island of Marakei, the ceremonial welcome offered to the guests has them step on the backs young men lying on the ground, read the statement posted on China’s Embassy to Kiribati’s WeChat account on Monday.

Such a ceremony is usually decided by the island’s elders and the church. Participating in such a ceremony is a show of respect for local culture and customs. When the Australian ambassador to Kiribati visited Marakei in 1988, he too was welcomed with such a ceremony.

Elsers on the island of Marakei introduce a local legend to Ambassador Tang Songgen

According to the embassy’s statement, Ambassador Tang and other diplomats in the embassy were invited to visit Kiribati’s Tabiteuea North, Tabiteuea South and Marakei in August. It was the Chinese diplomats’ first visit to the islands after China and Kiribati restored diplomatic ties in September 2019.

The Chinese visitors were warmly welcomed by the local government and people. They attended local activities, and visited churches, schools and clinics.

The Chinese diplomats also introduced Chinese culture to local people. They held Chinese culture exhibitions and Chinese cooking classes on history, culture, festivals and food of China.

Ambassador Tang thanked seniors, government and people on the islands. He said that the Chinese Embassy will work to strengthen cooperation and communication with local governments and bring benefits to more people in Kiribati.

A traditional grass mat with Chinese and Kiribati national flags

Local officials also clarified the traditional welcome offered to the ambassador after the phot drew criticism from some Western politicians and Twitter users who said it was emblematic of China's rising power in Pacific countries.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told a regular press briefing on Thursday that the Chinese ambassador agreed to attend the welcoming ceremony with local folk-custom characteristics at the invitation of local government officials and residents and out of respect for local culture. 

The ceremony was launched by the local city council, association and church. The scene in the photo shows the grandest traditional welcome ceremony of the island country, which was handed down by ancestors to show hospitality toward honored guests, Zhao cited local officials as saying.

Tekaiara, who is also a local MP for Marakei Island, said the ritual shows the highest respect for a visitor.

"This is the culture of the island … noone can oppose this when the elders decide," he said, noting that elders from the island had gathered to organize the welcome, ABC news reported.

Global Times

Posted in: DIPLOMACY

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