China has accused Australia of trying to sabotage its relationship with Fiji as questions swirl over whether the Pacific Island country will cut security and law enforcement ties with Beijing.
The relationship between Beijing and Suva has cooled ever since Sitiveni Rabuka won power late last year, particularly after the new prime minister reversed a decision forcing Taiwan to downgrade the official title of its diplomatic mission in Fiji.
Rabuka has also repeatedly said that he will scrap a 2011 police cooperation agreement which Fiji signed with China under former prime minister Frank Bainimarama, saying he wanted to limit law enforcement ties to countries with “similar systems.”
Late last week the Chinese embassy in Fiji issued its sharpest statement yet on the issue, saying it hoped “relevant parties” would “abandon ideological prejudice, and view the law enforcement and police cooperation between China and Fiji objectively and rationally”.
It also took aim at the United States and Australia, suggesting that other nations had deliberately tried to disrupt China’s cooperation with Fiji.
“The Chinese side sincerely hope relevant countries to make more contributions through concrete actions for Fiji and the PIC (Pacific Island countries) rather than only caring and helping the PICs out of geopolitical needs” it said.
That message was backed up by China’s Special Envoy to the Pacific, Qian Bo, who told the Samoa Observer he was “surprised” by Fiji’s actions, blaming “other parties” who had “interrupted” the relationship.
“We have some patience, but there is a bottom line for us that sees that we meet the core concerns of China,” he said.
While Chinese diplomats have struck a stronger tone on the issue, Fiji’s senior ministers have delivered contradictory messages about the exact status of the police cooperation agreement.
On Friday, Fijian Home Affairs Minister Pio Tikoduadua — who has responsibility for the defence forces and police — denied the agreement had already been scrapped, and insisted the government was merely “reviewing” it.
“There is no termination of the agreement,” he told reporters in Suva.
“We want to review the terms that govern the relationship between the government of China and Fiji with regards to security. That’s what we’re doing we are following the process.”
And when asked about the Chinese government’s criticisms of Fiji, he again stressed that no final decisions had been made.
“I am the line minister for [the agreement]. It’s not at the discretion of the prime minister,” he said.
The Home Affairs Minister said that under the MoU, Fiji had to give China six months’ notice before reviewing or terminating the agreement, and that he delivered that notice to the Chinese government earlier this year.
It’s also not clear whether the government wants to review or scrap a separate 2014 defence agreement which focuses on border control and training.
The spike in tensions follows a diplomatic spat between China and Fiji over Rabuka’s decision not to meet with China’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Ma Zhaoxu when he visited Suva last month.
That frustrated Chinese officials, although the Chinese embassy in Fiji played down the episode in its most recent statement, saying it “respected” the prime minister’s decision.
Earlier this year Rabuka also told the ABC he had asked Fijian officials to investigate claims by then president of Federated States of Micronesia David Panuelo that he had been followed by Chinese spies while visiting Suva.
But the prime minister’s office has not yet said whether that investigation has now finished, or revealed what the investigation unearthed.
SOURCE: ABC NEWS/PACNEWS