China’s links with Fiji

Chinese President Xi Jinping inspects a guard of honour upon his arrival at the Nadi International Airport in 2014. Picture: FT FILE

WHEN Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Fiji in 2014 to strengthen economic and strategic ties with Fiji and Pacific Island nations, there was an affirming perception that a visionary global leader had come. Mr Xi had said: “The friendly exchanges between the people of China and Pacific Island countries date back to a long time ago. We feel a natural kinship with each other.”
Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, explained it so succinctly when he commented that: “China believes that all countries are equal members of the international community irrespective of their size, wealth and strength.”
Fast forward to 2018 where there have been mixed reactions. An NIA media report on May 15, 2018 noted New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Winston Peters veiled reference to China’s growing influence among the region’s island nations. Mr Peters’ speech to the Australian Lowy Institute came as Tonga’s King Tupou VI made a state visit to China, shaking hands with Mr Xi.
The Chinese Xinhua news agency said Mr Xi vowed to “continue to provide Tonga with economic and technological assistance” adding Beijing “would never attach any political conditions to such assistance”.
Australia’s International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells had accused China of paying for “useless buildings” in the Pacific and roads that did not go anywhere. This comment had resulted in a sharp rebuke from Samoa’s Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele who labelled her remarks “insulting” and accused her of questioning Pacific leaders’ intelligence.
Belt and Road Initiative
When Mr Xi visited Fiji in 2014, he had signed five agreements covering increased economic and defence co-operation, the “provision of goods to address climate change”, and visa exemptions for Fijians travelling to China. Mr Xi had said China viewed Fiji as an important partner and supported the people of Fiji in choosing their own development path and improving livelihoods.
Within the space of five years, Mr Xi has displayed his global leadership credentials. He has facilitated five major global summits in China and he has tirelessly undertaken 28 overseas trips that has seen him engage with 56 countries on five continents. Indeed, since the past 2000 years, no other Chinese leader has done more than Mr Xi to foster global peace and sustainable development.
One foreign policy initiative that Fiji has been actively involved in is the “Belt and Road Initiative”. Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama has been very proactive in international diplomacy and his ever-expanding interactions with world leaders is unprecedented.
Like Mr Xi, Mr Bainimarama has a simple, down-to-earth and principled approach to issues and comes across as someone who gets things done sustainably.
Through the Belt and Road Initiative, Mr Xi envisions affirming international relations where all nations become a holistic global community of common destiny. This calls for a bold vision of humankind working together in harmony and prosperity while respecting the need for an environmentally healthy planet.
Fiji’s links to the Belt
and Road Initiative
Mr Bainimarama had attended the BRI in May 2017 at the invitation of Mr Xi. Chinese Ambassador to Fiji Zhang Ping had explained in the Fiji Sun of 14/5/17 that the Belt and Road Initiative refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, which were put forward by Mr Xi in the autumn of 2013.
The initiative carries forward the spirit of the ancient Silk Road featuring peace and co-operation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit, and adheres to the principles of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits. China is committed to green, low-carbon development and realisation of the goal of 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Belt and Road Initiative also emphasises on building up a “green, intellectual and healthy” silk road which corresponds to the Fijian Government’s Green Growth Framework.
At their meeting in China, Mr Xi had told Mr Bainimarama that China was ready to enhance all-round co-operation in agricultural technology, green development, investment and trade. Mr Xi added China would encourage more tourists to visit Fiji, and support Chinese enterprises to expand business in Fiji. Mr Bainimarama had reiterated that there were many conducive conditions for the creation of business in Fiji. The weather, the highly literate population and Fijian hospitality were important variables for all those wishing to invest in Fiji.
A sustainable model
One issue that has impressed about China in the Pacific is that China has gone out of its way to maintain the delicate balance of relationships that exist between Pacific states and the larger metropolitan neighbours. There has been a major shift in the tectonic plate in the sense that Pacific nations have developed stronger links with China.
Yet China has maintained its harmonious geo-political relationship. In this regard it has become a major pillar of stability even while NZ, Australia and the US have undertaken more assertive approaches.
In Australia, for example, this has translated into stifling counter espionage laws and the actions of six naval ships conducting drills in the South China Sea around Chinese territorial waters. In multicultural communities like Australia and New Zealand, it is important that Chinese communities are treated with dignity.
While Fijians value the positive aspect of their Western colonial heritage, it is still important to consider the Chinese development model based on Chinese ethical values that contrasts with Western liberal models.
China’s success has been because of its resistance to become more like the West. China has for example, brought hundreds of millions of people out of poverty by following its home grown development model rather than copying western liberal approaches.
Like China, Fiji has sustained economic growth over the past eight years and integrated sustainable models into local home grown solutions to deal with developmental challenges.
There are many similarities between Messrs Bainimarama and Xi such as their affirming personalities that also speak of great self-confidence to be proactive and to make the tough decisions in a visionary way.
It is to Mr Xi’s credit that through the Belt and Road Initiative, leaders of nations irrespective of their size, wealth and strength are treated as equal partners with China. Mr Xi is moulding a new generation of leaders who are visionary in their thinking and not only work for national goals but for greater global peace, environmental sustainability and prosperity.

* Joseph Veramu, a former University lecturer and UN policy specialist is a policy analyst consultant and can be contacted on twitter, FB or joseph.veramu@outlook.com. The views expressed are his and not of this newspaper.