By Mathew Yakai in Changchun, China
MUCH has been written about China in Oceania but focused on the negative aspect of Beijing’s diplomacy.
Negative! All through foreigner’s eyes. Not Pacific Islanders.
Researcher Susan Windybank in 2005 argues that “Rising Chinese activity has a broader twofold purposes; to sideline Taiwan and to undermine ties between Pacific island nations and regional powers such as the US, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.”
She argues that China’s diplomacy in the region should be seen as part of a longer-term political and strategic investment aimed at challenging the leadership of the United States in the greater Asia Pacific region.
Researcher Yan Li in 2006 analyzed the trip by Chinese premier Wen Jiaobao to Australia, Fiji and New Zealand as a “resources trip” and to minimize Taiwan’s ‘international space’.
He argues that Australia is concerned about China’s presence and how it can successfully sum up China’s deep strategic thinking.
Graeme Dobell in 2007 argues that the value-free diplomacy China follows in the islands undercuts any notion of a new Cold War in the region.
He sees Australia confronting the reality that policy interests in the South Pacific clashes with China’s approach, in vital areas such as corruption, financial standards, transparency and democratization.
Dobell argues that Australia’s stated aim in the Pacific is good governance, but China and Taiwan seem more interested in merely buying governments.
Yongjin Zhang in 2007 argues that China has emerged as a regional power in the Pacific by default.
The decline of other great powers in the region has facilitated such an emergence. He argues that China’s presence will shape the new regional order, however, not by provoking a new game of the traditional great power politics in the Pacific.
Michael Powles in 2007 argues on the present and future likely impact of China in the Pacific.
He says China’s rise to great power status is unlikely to be short-lived and its impact on the Pacific Island countries will be substantial and will require significant adjustments.
He, however, argues that Pacific Island governments can change China’s course in the region if they act with caution in several field of vital importance.
Lum and Vaughn in 2007 in their Congressional Research Service (CRS) report analyses the current governance and economic trend in the region and suggested that USA re-engage in the region.
One would be convinced after reading their 24 page report that USA sees China as a threat in the region and attempts to contain its influence.
Negative reports and papers about China’s diplomacy in Oceania are numerous.
The current debate appears to be a widening gulf between those Pacific regions that sees an increasing Chinese role and influence and welcoming it and look to the opportunities they believe China could bring.
On such country is Fiji, currently run by a military Prime Minister, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama.
Bainimarama has been sidelined and bashed by Canberra and New Zealand for clinching on to power that is belonging to the people of Fiji.
In the new development, Sir Michael Somare who boasts his long family ties with Fiji gained a new twist after former prime minister and academia Sir Rabbie Namaliu nominated as chief mediator for the Presidents Political Dialogue Forum was labeled “puppet of Australia and New Zealand".
Two former British colonies Australia and New Zealand, founded by ex-convicts, are leading the charge of the self-righteous brigade in reining Bainimarama to heel and exact its pound of flesh.
Else Fiji will lose millions in foreign aid. The UN, EU and the Commonwealth have given the (Australia New Zealand) ANZ alliance tacit approval to be its listening posts with misinformation as its trademark.
The blitz against Fiji also comes from all the kingsmen in Tonga, Samoa, Niue, and the Melanesian bloc, dabbling with diplomacy to impress their neo-colonist masters, NZ Prime Minister John Key, and Australian PM Kevin Rudd.
Evidently, the ANZ alliance has been dangling lucrative aid carrots to hire a posse of head-hunters to execute their dirty deeds.
Given this diplomatic climate, Fiji is now caught in a situation, for the better or worse. Time will tell.
For the better if Fiji does not repeat its blood-less coup tradition in the future, and the question hangs as to how that can be achieved. Bainimarama intends to stop that.
For the worst if democracy is not restored sooner then lists of repercussions are waiting.
Definitely, there is dark cloud hanging over the lovely romantic “bula” island. All her traditional friends are pushing Suva to listen or Bainimarama will be taken to task. Interestingly, Bainimarama does not give in to those “threats”.
Even Washington states that it will not agree with Bainimarama to hold onto power for two years without a clear timetable for the return of constitutional government.
“We call upon all Fijians to work together to ensure a rapid return to democracy,” U.S. Amb. to Fiji Steven McGann said as reported by Fiji Times.
Where can Fiji turn to when all friends are looking down on her? Can Fiji trust its traditional friends in the future even she returns to a constitutional government?
This scribe believes that when it comes to the issue of sovereignty, it is up to the concerned nations’ leaders to decide which path to take, leaving aside international norms and values.
In the case of Fiji, Bainimarama is now at a cross-road to decide which path his country should take and who his real friends are when Fiji is facing “diplomatic tsunami”.
In the century of economic interdependence and trade, Fiji can have other options if the country that relies on tourism and sugar industries for her revenues is constrained both diplomatically and economically.
The latest bilateral and economic development between Fiji and Mainland China has shown to Suva’s traditional partners that Fiji has an option - to look north - China for supports.
Diplomatically, that is approved. Economically and politically, Suva has the liberty as a sovereign state.
Conventional wisdom would inevitably direct Bainimarama to seek help from China in anyways to recuperate the impoverished and vulnerable economy.
Beijing always understands Suva’s plea and situation from the humanistic nature as it does to her African, South American and Asian brothers.
The February 2009 signing of four agreements between Beijing and Suva involving developments worth millions of dollars is a harbinger of more China is willing to offer.
According to Fiji Times Feb. 10, the developments will include the new multi-million dollar Navua Hospital, which will improve the health of the people.
It was signed between Bainimarama and Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping in Nadi in a brief stop-over during Xi’s Latin-America tour.
While the figures on the agreements were yet to be confirmed, Fiji's Ambassador to China Sir James Ah Koy said the friendship between the two countries was consistent.
""Fiji has a great friend in China," he said.
Sir James said the relationship had grown over the years and Fiji needed that, especially when "Australia and New Zealand had treated us like lepers", reported Fiji Times.
Mr. Jinping was accorded a military guard of honour, both on his arrival and departure, and a traditional welcoming ceremony. He also met the President, Ratu Josefa Iloilo.
Meanwhile, State owned Fiji Daily Post reported March 25 that China is Fiji’s friend despite the odds. China remains committed to continue and improve bilateral relations.
“China is a friend of Fiji. I am very glad to know that Fiji has already established very good cooperative exchanges with concerned authorities and organizations in China,” Chinese Amb. to Fiji Cai Jinbiao said.
“Our embassy and my duty are to promote the bilateral cooperation and exchanges in many areas”, he said.
Australia and New Zealand who operate under the guise of democracy and transparency would see Beijing’s help to Suva as leverage for Bainimarama to downplay international and regional pressures on Suva to return to constitutional government sooner.
However, Beijing’s foreign policy is always clear – it does not interfere in other countries issues, including Fiji’s internal politics.
Any diplomatic and economic dealings between other countries and Beijing are on a “win-win situation”.
Meanwhile, Li Changchun, a senior official of the Communist Party of China met with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd March 21 and in any case, Rudd would ask Li to convey to Beijing what role China could play in the Fiji affair.
However, Rudd who went to school in China and speaks fluent Mandarin knows China’s foreign policy better then any Pacific Island leaders, including Bainimarama.
If Bainimarama and Rudd chat over a cup of coffee now then Rudd would admit that China is a genuine friend to Suva when Canberra and NZ are bashing Suva.
Westerners can see China through their eyes in a negative perspective but should the Islanders sit back for the moment and try to assess the international and regional roles Great China is playing today.
Yes, China can help Fiji in both economic and bilateral terms and not to ruin the beautiful island but to provide an option. All is up to Bainimarama to use his wisdom.
Given this situation, Fiji and China can prove Australia, New Zealand and other major powers and international institutions wrong by doing the following:
First, China can prove to the regional governments that she is a genuine player when Fiji faces the current problem.
Second, Fiji can prove to Australia and New Zealand that Suva has other options like China.
Beijing’s diplomacy in Oceania does not intend to limit Taiwan’s “international space” as speculated by foreign scholars.
Taiwan remains integral part of Mainland China. The international community knows this.