Kiribati in the Chinese Pacific

Is Kiribati in the American lake, Indo-Pacific or Chinese Pacific? In this Episode, Julie Yu-Wen Chen talks to Rodolfo Maggio, a senior researcher at the University of Helsinki to conceptualize Kiribati as an interstitial island in the Chinese Pacific.


IMG_3183.jpgRodolfo Maggio is a social anthropologist of moral and economic values in the Asia-Pacific region. At the University of Helsinki, he is working on an ERC-funded project “properties of units and standards”. In 2023, he published an article in Political Geography that critically analyzes the case of a 2020 Chinese diplomatic visit in Kiribati. The event became known on August 16th, 2020, when Michael Field, a journalist writing with a focus on the South Pacific, posted a visually shocking photograph on Twitter. He typed the following words as a commentary to the exceptional circumstances that the picture depicted: “KIRIBATI – Event in which Chinese Ambassador Tang Songgen walked on backs of children as part of a welcome took place Friday/Saturday at Marakei, 80 km northeast of Tarawa, Kiribati”. Rodolfo Maggio uses his anthropological lens to clarify that the way the welcome ceremony for the Chinese diplomat has been enacted suggests that the “I-Kiribati political project” is far from being a passive acceptance of Chinese presence and influence in the Pacific Ocean.

Julie Yu-Wen Chen is Professor of Chinese Studies at the Department of Cultures at the University of Helsinki (Finland) and visiting professor at the Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia at Mahidol University (Thailand). Dr. Chen serves as one of the editors of the Journal of Chinese Political Science (Springer, SSCI). Formerly, she was chair of Nordic Association of China Studies (NACS) and Editor-in-Chief of Asian Ethnicity (Taylor & Francis). Since 2023, she has been involved in the EU twinning project “The EU in the Volatile Indo-Pacific Region”, leading the preparatory research and providing supervision and counselling to junior researchers.