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Tiny Pacific island Nauru takes on Beijing in furious diplomatic spat

(CNN) The tiny Pacific nation of Nauru has demand China apologize for the "crazy" behavior of its senior diplomat at the Pacific Island Forum, a gathering of 18 regional leaders hosted by Nauru this week.

The row erupted Tuesday after Nauru's President Baron Waqa prevented Du Qiwen, the head of China's delegation, from presenting a speech on climate change, Australia's SBS news reported.

The Chinese delegation stormed out of the session, and in a news briefing Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Minister spokeswoman Hua Chunying made a pointed comment about Waqa's role in the incident.

"The relevant person should have understood that only those who behave with dignity will win respect from others," she said. "The same is true for a country. Big or small, one country should conduct itself with dignity and self-respect."

It's not the first time the two nations -- one home to 1.3 billion people, the other 11,000 -- have clashed.

Before the Pacific Island Forum even began, Nauru requested the Chinese delegation travel on their personal passports rather than diplomatic ones, a request Beijing staunchly refused, threatening to boycott the meeting.

There's a reason a speck in the Pacific Ocean, covering an area of just 21 square kilometers (8.1 square miles), feels confident staring down one of the world's major superpowers.

Nauru is one of the last diplomatic allies of Taiwan, the self-governed island that Beijing views as a breakaway province.

The row threatens to put a wrinkle in the Chinese government's plans to grow closer to the Pacific Islands, a longterm goal to which it's pledged billions of dollars in financial aid.

Beijing's main rival for influence in the region, Australia, has invested billions throughout the Pacific and is a close ally of Nauru. The Australian government has spent large amounts of money exporting asylum seekers to Nauru as part of its strict border protection regime.

A study released in August by the Sydney-based Lowy Institute found Australia had pledged $6.72 billion to the Pacific since 2011, whereas Beijing had committed $5.88 billion in foreign aid to the region.

Taiwan and Australia support Nauru economically, both through education and cultural projects as well as helping provide health and medical care. A Taiwanese dance troupe performed at a state banquet during the Pacific Islands Forum, according to the island's Foreign Ministry.

After the dispute, China's Foreign Ministry called on Nauru to respect the "One China" principle, which claims Taiwan as part of mainland China.

Taiwan only has 17 diplomatic allies left around the world as the Chinese government has slowly chipped away at the island's international relations. In August, El Salvador announced it would be recognizing Beijing, infuriating the government in Taipei.

"They're not our friends. They just need us for their own purposes," President Baron Waqa said, according to SBS. "Sorry, but I have to be strong on this because no one is to come and dictate things to us."

Waqa said he wanted Beijing to apologize for the escalating row, and threatened to involved the United Nations.

"We won't just seek an apology, we'll even take it up to the UN," he said, according to SBS.

"Not only that, I will mention it at the UN and every international meeting."

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