Pacific nations

Marshall Islands president accuses China of backing opponents, fuelling political crisis to secure remote atoll

  • Vote of no confidence in leader Hilda Heine, the first female leader of any Pacific Island, is scheduled for next week
  • Her opponents have accused her of putting the country’s financial reputation at risk with the adoption of a cryptocurrency
PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 November, 2018, 1:17pm
UPDATED : Friday, 09 November, 2018, 1:17pm

Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine said accusations that she is destroying the country’s financial reputation by adopting a cryptocurrency are “baseless” and her opponents are being unduly influenced by pressure from China.

Earlier this week eight senators moved to pass a vote of no confidence in Heine, the first female leader of any Pacific Island. The vote is expected to take place next week.

Heine’s opponents said she had put the country’s financial reputation into disrepute by pushing ahead with the adoption of the cryptocurrency called Sovereign as the country’s second legal tender, despite strident warnings from the International Monetary Fund to drop the “risky” plan.

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Heine initially refused to comment on the threat to her leadership but on Friday said the accusations against her were “baseless” and that her opponents were working on China’s behalf to secure a remote Marshall Islands atoll and turn it into a “country within our own country”.

We are a small country and it is easy for foreign elements to influence individual people
President Hilda Heine

The Marshall Islands, located about halfway between Hawaii and Australia, gained its independence in 1986 after four decades under US administration.

Heine told Radio New Zealand Pacific that a number of senators who had moved against her had connections with a Chinese businessman who was trying to secure Rongelap atoll as a business haven for foreign investors.

Heine’s government has rejected the proposal for Rongelap, saying her country needed to retain its independence at a time of growing Chinese influence in the Pacific Islands, and the plan could spawn money laundering schemes.

“We have to be cautious knowing what the geopolitical situation is in the Pacific region,” Heine told RNZ Pacific.

“I think it’s important for the government to do its own due diligence and make sure that the sovereignty of the Pacific is secure,” she said.

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“We are a small country and it is easy for foreign elements to influence individual people, and so I think that the more education and information that we share with the public the better so we can see initiatives for what they are.”

Despite the leadership threat, Heine said she was felt confident of surviving the coming vote.

“If you were to take a poll today, my guess is that over 60 per cent of the Marshallese [parliament] would come out against the vote of no confidence, because they know it is baseless.”