Fiji reconsiders security ties with China amid Pacific tensions

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Fiji’s leader indicated Wednesday his nation is reconsidering its security ties with China at a time that geopolitical tensions in the Pacific are rising.

Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka said Fiji was reviewing a contentious police cooperation agreement it signed with China in 2011 that has allowed Chinese police officers to be stationed in Fiji.

At one point during a news conference in Wellington with his New Zealand counterpart Chris Hipkins, Rabuka appeared to go one step further by referring to Fiji’s “discontinuation” of the agreement.

“If our systems and our values differ, what cooperation can we get from them?” Rabuka said, referring to China.

“We need to look at that again before we decide whether we go back to it, or if we continue the way that we have in the past by cooperating with those who have similar democratic values and systems.”

Rabuka said Fiji was finalising a defense agreement with New Zealand, which it expected to complete next week. He said the new agreement would allow Fiji’s military to build its capacity and skill and be exposed to new technologies.

He said there has been a lot of geopolitical focus on the region, but that Pacific countries only worry about militarisation “when diplomacy and common neighborly discussions fail.”

“The agreement will allow the defense officials to undertake engagements in different areas, including capacity building and upskilling, exposure to new technologies and interoperability, and technical support, among others.”

Rabuka also put emphasis on the need for them to work with their partner countries.

“Our region has attracted a lot of attention lately and the two high level meetings which concluded recently in Papua New Guinea with India and United States is a clear indication of the important of our partners’ place on this issue in the Pacific.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the region is stronger together.

“We are stronger when we combine our collective efforts and focus on regionalism and focus on Pacific regionalism and the priorities of Blue Pacific continent so again Prime Minister, I acknowledge Fiji’s commitment to working with NZ as bilateral and influential regional partner.”

Rabuka said New Zealand’s Minister for Defence, Andrew Little, will be in Fiji next week to finalise the agreement with the Minister for Home Affairs.

Fiji expanded its policing agreement with China in 2013 to include some military cooperation, but Rabuka on Wednesday didn’t directly address that arrangement.

China has previously said the security agreements have benefited Fiji and it hopes to continue the collaboration.

China and the United States have increased their competition for influence in the Pacific in recent years.

Last month the U.S signed a new security pact with Papua New Guinea, which is strategically located just north of Australia. The U.S has also opened embassies in Solomon Islands and Tonga, and revived Peace Corps volunteer efforts in the Pacific Islands.

Last year, Solomon Islands signed its own security pact with China, a move that raised alarm throughout the Pacific.

SOURCE: AP/FBC NEWS/PACNEWS