China Complements Aid to Fiji And The Region By Australia And New Zealand

Why then the fuss over its so-called growing influence? Fiji has excellent working relations with China
22 Aug 2019 14:00
China Complements Aid to Fiji And The Region By Australia And New Zealand
A meeting between Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama and Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2015.


While climate change dominated Pacific Islands Forum discussions in Funafuti, China continues to loom in the background of geopolitics.

The region is very much the focus of a power struggle between China on one hand and Australia backed by the United States on the other hand.

From Fiji’s perspective, China remains a true friend. During Fiji’s political turmoils many countries deserted the country, but China maintained relations and donated timely assistance.

Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama will not forget that easily. In fact, he recognises that China does not behave the same way as Australia did in the recent forum meeting in Tuvalu.

China respects Fiji’s position on issues and does not flex its muscles as a world power when it wants something.

Of course, like other countries, it uses diplomatic channels to express its views.

But to Mr Bainimarama and Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum’s credit, Fiji has been consistent in its position on issues.

Not so long ago, a Chinese delegation came here to negotiate an air rights deal with Fiji.

Under the deal China would introduce direct flights from Chinese cities to Nadi bringing in Chinese tourists, boosting our tourism numbers and injecting much-needed funds into the economy.

If Mr Bainimarama and Mr Sayed-Khaiyum had allowed it to go ahead because of China’s immense contribution to our national development, it could have hurt our national airline, Fiji Airways. The Chinese, commercially, will compete directly with Fiji Airways, which is building its Asian markets. Because the Chinese airlines have bigger resources and bigger fleets of aircraft, they would have forced Fiji Airways out of some routes.

Yes, China has done a lot for us, but it does not mean we will sacrifice our national interests. That was the bottom line for Mr Bainimarama and Mr Sayed-Khaiyum, the minister responsible for civil aviation.

Fiji has operated on a consistent policy that any deal should be under its terms and conditions.

That has worked well in the Fiji-China relations. So this worry about China’s growing influence in the Pacific does not really fit into Fiji’s position.

Historically, foreign involvement in the region is not new. China is not the first nor the last because here is a region largely affected by slow economic growth and needs help.

This dependence on aid drives geopolitics. Australia is the biggest donor and ensures that the small island developing states do not forget it.

In fact, its Prime Minister Scott Morrison once said: “This is our patch.”

But Australia is increasingly worried about the growing influence of China in the region.

Millions of Chinese yuan have flown to the region for infrastructure development like roads, bridges, seaports, airports and buildings.

This level of investment worries Australia to the extent that it fears China may be more favoured than it.

From Fiji’s experience and long-standing relations with China, the Chinese complement regional development objectives. The Chinese will not be able to surpass the Australians in the region any time soon.

So why the fuss on China when it complements aid given to the region by Australia and New Zealand?

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