September 26, 2012
China picks Fiji as venue for new geopolitical fight
September 26, 2012
BEIJING: Fiji has become a geopolitical ''football'' on Australia's doorstep, experts say, as China strengthens support for the island nation's military government.
Australia last night urged China to work ''constructively'' with Fiji's neighbours following an unprecedented four-day visit by China's second-ranked leader, in which he pointedly defended the military government of Commodore Frank Bainimarama.
The leader, Wu Bangguo, reportedly denounced what he called the bullying of strong countries over small or weak ones, according to a report by Radio New Zealand International, in what the report said was a clear swipe at Australia and New Zealand.
The report said Mr Wu opposed Fiji's exclusion from the main regional body, the Pacific Islands Forum - a policy supported by Australia and New Zealand.
Anne-Marie Brady, a specialist on China in the south Pacific at the University of Canterbury, said China was now actively undermining efforts by Australia, New Zealand and other Pacific nations to pressure Fiji to democratise. She said Fiji has caught up in a rapidly accelerating tussle for global influence between China and the US.
''It means Fiji is the political football in the geo-political contest between China and the US,'' she said. ''It is very much like the cold war. It's an insult to Australia and New Zealand and it's also an insult to the Pacific Islands.''
Australia and New Zealand have been attempting to encourage China to abide by international norms on transparency and governance in their aid programs, to limited success.
China receives strong Fijian support for its policies on Tibet and Taiwan and made Fiji an important port for satellite communication vessels.
Mr Wu also handed over a $200 million concessional loan for road construction, announced 30 new scholarships for Fijian students and highlighted a 34 per cent jump in bilateral trade last year, according to official reporters.
''Every country, no matter whether large or small, rich or poor, is an equal member of the international community,'' a spokesman for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, when sidestepping a question on whether Mr Wu's comments were accurately reported.
A People's Daily report said Mr Wu had defended ''the right of the Fijian people to choose its own development path and supported Fiji's right to take part in international regional affairs.''
Mr Wu's visit comes just weeks after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's attended the Pacific Islands Forum at the Cook Islands, which experts say was intended to counter growing Chinese influence. Fiji has announced that it will open an embassy next month in North Korea, a gesture that North Korea is expected to reciprocate.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade last night noted the number of high-level Chinese visits to Fiji and the region.
''We continue to urge China to work transparently and cooperatively with Pacific governments,'' she said.
Two years ago Australian officials were surprised when the Vice-President and anointed president-in-waiting, Xi Jinping, made an unannounced stopover in Fiji when travelling from Australia to Latin America.
''China - unlike Australia and New Zealand - hasn't isolated us nor has it tried to intervene in political issues,'' a Fijian government spokesman said, according to the local state run media.