The negotiations with Kiribati follow the deal Beijing signed with the Solomon Islands, which some experts believe will allow China to build a naval base in the country located north-east of Australia.
According to a leak of a draft deal from March, the pact with the Solomons could allow China to send police and even military forces to the islands, a development that shocked the US and it allies in the Indo-Pacific from Australia and New Zealand to Japan.
One US official said China had set its sights on Kiribati for some time. “They’ve had on-and-off discussions on this, not just for months but for years,” said the official, who added that Beijing was trying to establish “strategic perches” on Pacific island nations.
There are serious concerns the pact with Kiribati would be similar to the one agreed with the Solomons, said one western official.