Fiji’s prime minister says he will reject help from nations who donate aid and expect compliance as he works to gain support for a Pacific-centric peace plan.
Sitiveni Rabuka used a speech to call for a Pacific “peace zone”, saying his nation should not be forced to choose a side in any conflict or competition between the United States and China.
“Fiji’s position is clear. We are friendly with China and the U.S and do not want to be caught in the struggle between the superpowers,” he said in an address to the Lowy Institute think tank on Tuesday.
“Friends, you have been told to look after the Pacific. Don’t abandon us again.”
Rabuka also called for greater co-operation on climate change with Pacific island nations bearing the brunt of more frequent and devastating natural disasters.
He also floated sending Fijian peacekeepers to Papua New Guinea to help monitor tribal conflicts.
The Pacific peace plan would include a commitment to refrain from action “that may jeopardise regional order and stability” and to maintain nations’ sovereignty.
It would also put an emphasis on diplomacy and consensus decisions on regional issues through the Pacific Island Forum.
PIF leaders will meet in the Cook Islands in November where Rabuka will officially propose the motion.
The former coup leader said his people had a good relationship with Beijing, which aids “valuable and appreciated” programmes.
“I have to be confident China will be responsive to the peace plan,” he said.
But he emphatically rejected any aid that came with strings attached.
“Unfortunately, some aid donors expect us to be compliant, to submit to their demands, so we have to be very, very careful,” Rabuka said.
Fiji’s sovereignty needed to come first even if it risked “looking a gift horse in the mouth”.
“Sometimes we’ll do that to make sure that we’re still in control of our own situation,” he said.
“Our own development and our own quality of life will have to be sustainable.”
While China has been a strong development partner, Fiji continued to be “drawn towards the two poles” of power in the world – China and the U.S.
Rabuka said he wanted to remain development partners and maintain a warm relationship with both.
“Please maintain the peace,” he pleaded.
But he said he would “rather have Fiji go back to its traditional and comfortable relationships of the past” after pledging to scrap a Chinese policing agreement.
The Fijian prime minister warned that conflicts across the globe and compounding impacts of climate change could put the planet “on the edge of something terrible”.
“If this conflict somehow expands, how will we be affected? Would the nuclear option be unleashed?” he said of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong commended Rabuka for advancing the peace proposition.
“It’s a vision we share. Our security is enhanced when we respond to Pacific priorities,” she said as she introduced the Fijian leader ahead of his address.
Rabuka is in Australia on a state visit and will meet with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Wednesday.
The pair will update the Fiji-Australia Vuvale Partnership, which sets out shared priorities of the relationship in a bid to strengthen peace in the Pacific.