China says it is exploring feasibility of Kiribati airstrip upgrades

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China is working with the tiny Pacific island state of Kiribati to explore the feasibility of improving an airstrip on one of its remote islands, China’s foreign ministry said late Friday.

Reuters reported on Wednesday, citing Kiribati lawmakers, that China has drawn up plans to upgrade an airstrip and bridge on the tiny island of Kanton (also spelled Canton), a coral atoll strategically located midway between Asia and the Americas.

In a statement sent to Reuters, China’s Foreign Ministry said that China was exploring plans for upgrading and improving the airstrip, at the invitation of the Kiribati government, to facilitate domestic transport within Kiribati.

The statement said China’s cooperation with Kiribati held to the concept of “mutually beneficial cooperation” and was “within the limits of its ability to provide help without any political conditions.”

Construction on Kanton would offer China a foothold deep in territory that had been firmly aligned to the United States and its allies since World War Two, and comes after Kiribati severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favour of China in 2019.

Reporting by Andrew Galbraith; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore