Is game over for China in Fiji?

Fiji’s Prime Minister SitiveniRabuka’sremarks over terminating a police training with China have come as a big jolt to the Xi government. Rabukasaid that there was no need for Chinese state security personnel to continue working in the Fiji Police Force while referring to a memorandum of understanding signed in 2011 between the Fiji Police Force and China’s Ministry of Public Security. The agreement had resulted in Fijian police officers undergoing training in China and Chinese officers being deployed to Fiji on attachment programs for three to six months.

Fijihas now suspended the police commissioner and signalled the end of a controversial policing agreement with China.Police co-operation efforts between the two countries had reached new heights in September 2021 following the appointment of a Chinese Police Liaison officer to be based in Fiji.Rabuka has now said that there was no need to continue because of differences in the justice system of Fiji from China. He further added that officers from other countries like Australia and New Zealand could stay because their systems were similar to Fiji.Rabuka who is known for speaking his mind, has categorically said that he did not believe Beijing would have “too much influence” in the Pacific region, citing the new Labour government’s swift focus on the region since coming to power.

Rebuka’s remarks cannot be seen in isolation. The veteran leader who has been running a coalition government, wants to play a bigger role in the pacific and remain a regional powerbroker in the pacific region. Fiji’s new leader has said he wants the two countries to be seen as “equal partners in the Pacific”. But Rebuka has also been saying for some time that Fiji shouldn’t be too close to China and should strengthen bonds with Australia, New Zealand and the US.

His remarks are in sharp contrast to the Fiji’s earlier stand according to which China was more as a friend than a foe and a crucial partner in development. Rabuka had made his views known about China much before the elections. He had said that Fiji would pivot away from Beijing under his leadership. He had stated in August last year that he would rule out a security pact with China if he wins government. He had also said that it was time his country returned to its “comfortable niche” with Australia. Thanking China for what it had done in the past, PM said China had filled a void left by Australia following the 1987 coups.

He wanted greater freedom for Fijians working in Australia now by becoming close to Australia.

With Rabuka at the helm of affairs, China has virtually lost the chance to be an ally of Fiji. For China , the Pacific island is very significant. In fact, the election was closely watched by Beijing, who has come closer to the country owing to Bainimarama. Under Frank Bainimarama, Fiji had come closer to China. He had introduced the “look north” policy which allowed greater Chinese involvement in the country. In the recent years, China had committed more and more money in the region, particularly in the form of loans. It had also established a strong foothold in the country. China’s 10 Pacific allies, including Fiji, had signed on to the One trillion US dollars belt and road initiative.According to news reports, there are around 10,000 Chinese living there, a Confucius Centre located at the regional University of the South Pacific, as well as presence of Chinese state media in the capital city.

Fiji attempted to increase its presence in the Pacific island and hosted US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken last year in February. Blinken’s visit was aimed to curtail China’s influence in the pacific region. Blinken’s visit in 37 years to the tiny island, reflected how much also had changed geopolitically and the role of Fiji in this part of the world. However, Blinken’s team used the visit to reassure Pacific Island leaders of the Biden administration’s commitment to regional concerns, chief of which is climate change, following America’s return to the Paris Agreement. Maritime security and illegal fishing. Blinken had raised the spectre speaking about China’s ambitions to become the “leading military, economic, diplomatic and political power, not just in the region, but in the world” and the need for a united front against Chinese expansionism.

“We appreciate what China has done in the past. And that’s it,” Rabuka said,

saying China had filled a void left by Australia following the 1987 coups. Notwithstanding his remarks, China’s Chaígé de ‘Affaiíes Wang Xuguang made a couítesy call to stands íeady to woík with Fiji to expand the fíiendly exchanges and píomote China and Fiji’s compíehensive stíategic paítneíship to a new level.However, it is time for China to revise its strategy for the tiny Asia Pacific island which is strategically important in the South Pacific Ocean.