Fiji will sign a defence agreement with France, after the cabinet of the Pacific Islands nation approved the deal, Fiji’s government said in a statement on Thursday.
France’s President Emmanuel Macron in July toured the Pacific Islands, where France has overseas territories, denouncing predatory behaviour by big powers in a region where China is extending trade and security ties.
Macron’s advisers say France can be an “alternative” and help island nations diversify their partnerships without becoming too reliant on one single country.
A statement from the Fiji Prime Minister’s Office on Thursday said its cabinet had discussed defence cooperation between Fiji and France and approved a Status of Forces Agreement.
Areas covered by the agreement include joint defence technology research, training, logistical support and emergency and humanitarian assistance.
“The Agreement provides a framework for cooperation and assistance through military exchanges and the sharing of expertise between the Republic of Fiji Military Force and the Defence Force of the French Republic,” the statement said.
A joint document would be signed by both parties, it said. France’s embassy in Fiji did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Fiji and France began negotiations for a Status of Forces Agreement in 2016, under the Bainimarama government. China instead became a major donor of military vehicles, vessels and other defence equipment around 2018.
The government of Sitiveni Rabuka, elected last year, has shifted attention to the United States and Australia.
France has recently worked with Fiji, Australia and the United States on illegal fishing patrols in the Pacific Ocean.
Rabuka said last week the Pacific Islands should be a “zone of peace, a zone of non-aligned territories”, adding that he hopes the rivalry between the United States and China in the region does not develop into a military conflict or build-up.
The Pacific Islands, pivotal during World War Two, are again at the centre of a geopolitical contest: Solomon Islands has a security pact with China, while Papua New Guinea signed a defence cooperation deal with the United States.
SOURCE: FIJI GOVT/WIRES/PACNEWS