Tahiti woman told not to challenge China

8:48 pm on 10 April 2018

A French Polynesian woman has been advised by the French authorities in Tahiti not to challenge Chinese diplomats occupying her mother's property illegally.

The rental contract of the Chinese consulate in Tahiti expired at the end of February, but the mission remains occupied.

A social media campaign has been launched to coerce China to recognise property rights in force in French Polynesia.

However, the owner's daughter Eva Bitton said the top French government representative in Papeete told her that no court would take on China and she should accede to the diplomats' wishes and sell the house.

The house is not for sale.

Neither the French High Commission nor the Chinese consulate has responded to last week's inquiries by RNZ Pacific about whether the diplomatic status confers China's representatives a right to remain in Residence Taina.

Residence Taina used as Chinese diplomatic mission in French Polynesia

Residence Taina used as Chinese diplomatic mission in French Polynesia Photo: supplied

During last year's rental dispute, the Chinese attache objected to the owners getting access to the property and in writing restated that "once rented, the house has become territory of the People's Republic of China".

The dispute between the 76-year-old owner Huguette Ly and China's diplomats revolved around rent, utility charges, maintenance and the misuse of a residential property as a diplomatic mission with a large satellite dish on top.

The mission was given six months notice in July, effective 28 February this year and in September the owner's lawyer was told China had agreed to vacate the premises on time.

Letter confirming that China would leave te rental accommodation

Letter confirming that China would leave te rental accommodation Photo: supplied

The day before the rental expired, the Chinese consulate's lawyer was on public service television La Premiere, saying "the owner's daughter has accepted that they stay for another six months."

However, Eva Bitton said she never made such a concession and she immediately asked the TV station for a right of reply.

The reporter replied that "with approval of the editor in chief, we have produced a balanced report with the elements at our disposal, in particular your point of view as presented in the video report".

Mrs Bitton contends that most media outlets in Tahiti were advised not to touch the story.

French High Commissioner in French Polynesia Rene Bidal

French High Commissioner in French Polynesia Rene Bidal Photo: Facebook French HC

At the end of last week, she had a meeting with the French High Commissoner Rene Bidal to ask for assistance but according to her that didn't go well.

"He said 'I'm very upset about this story because the Quai de Orsay [French Foreign Ministry] asks about it," Mrs Bitton said.

She said he advised her to back off and according to her he suggested the residence be sold as desired by China.

"He said no judge and no court would ever receive the consulate of China and its diplomats to hear this case," she said.

"He insisted on the protection of the Chinese consulate and diplomats and I told him about being a victim of aggression last year."

Mrs Bitton said at a meeting with Chinese diplomats in April last year, a pile of papers was thrown at her.

Bailiff report on occupation of disputed property in Punaauia

Bailiff report on occupation of disputed property in Punaauia Photo: supplied

To try to recover the house, her lawyer told her that going to court remained an option, contrary to the advice by the High Commissioner, albeit it was one involving some risks.

"Maybe the court could give them two years or ten years, we don't know. So maybe it's better to just make a protocol and charge an occupation fee and they will just stay for a few months," she said.

In March, police summoned her to the station and she was questioned about graffiti on the Chinese consulate wall.

Mrs Bitton said a secret service agent had told her about the graffiti the day before she was summoned.

"I explained to them who told me and they asked me if I did and I said 'no'. I took a picture and put it on Facebook."

Graffiti against 'expropriation and squatting'outside Chinese consulate

Graffiti against 'expropriation and squatting'outside Chinese consulate Photo: FB

She said she confirmed that she had opened her mother's Facebook page and launched an online petition which she said was legal and not defamatory.

Although she said it was an informal chat at the police station she was warned that they could seize all her computers and devices to get at her data.

Since then, she said "the secret service has advised me to no longer go to the police situation without a lawyer. And they explained to me that the person responsible is not very happy and has had a talk to the top boss of the Gendarmerie".

She said she was bewildered about the situation she and her mother had found themselves in.

She said she had a lot of fear of the police and after what Mr Bidal told her.

"Who is going to protect me? I'm a citizen and I have civic rights."