This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

As one of the first countries to have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on maintaining cooperation under the BRI framework, Fiji has maintained close cooperation with China in the areas of economic affairs, trade and climate change.

Global Times reporter Leng Shumei (GT) recently held an exclusive interview with Chinese Ambassador to Fiji Zhou Jian (Zhou).

Ambassador Zhou provided a detailed overview of the achievements of the two sides’ cooperation and shared his opinions on the U.S’ provocative activities in the South Pacific region targeting China’s increasing influence and Japan’s reckless move to dump the Fukushima nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean.

GT: In 2018, Fiji and China officially signed a MOU on cooperation under the framework of the BRI. Could you outline the progress and achievements of the BRI cooperation between Fiji and China in recent years? What are your expectations for future cooperation between the two countries under the BRI?’

Zhou: Despite the geographical distance, China and Fiji share a strong economic complementarity and are natural partners for cooperation. Since the signing of the MOU on BRI cooperation in 2018, the economic and trade cooperation between the two countries has entered the fast lane and achieved fruitful results. This is mainly reflected in three aspects:

First, the trade volume between the two countries continues to expand. In 2022, bilateral trade volume between China and Fiji reached US$546 million, an increase of 21 percent compared to the previous year. China’s exports to Fiji amounted to US$503 million, an increase of 27.1 percent compared to the previous year. Fiji has become China’s second largest trading partner in the South Pacific region.

Second, the economic and trade cooperation has deepened. Currently, many Chinese enterprises have invested and started businesses in Fiji, covering infrastructure construction, mineral resources, manufacturing, trade and other fields. They have participated in the construction of many important infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges, airports, ports and housing, playing an important role in promoting Fiji’s economic growth and improving the local people’s livelihood.

Third, the effectiveness of Chinese aid has been remarkable. Over the past years, China has provided Fiji with targeted assistance, most notably the Juncao Technology Demonstration Center project (Juncao is a particular breed of grass discovered by Chinese scientists) and the Agricultural Development Project in Vanua Levu. These two projects aim to help Fiji improve food security, cope with climate change and reduce poverty, and have become successful examples of China-Fiji BRI cooperation.

China and Fiji are both developing countries, our people aspire to live a happier life, and our governments are both faced with the task of promoting development. BRI provides the best platform for the development and revitalisation of both countries. Currently, China is advancing on the path to Chinese modernisation, bringing tremendous opportunities to the international community, including Fiji. We are willing to join hands with Fiji, give full play to our respective strengths, deepen the construction of the “five pronged approach,” create cooperation highlights and strive to make the BRI a road to cooperation and happiness for both sides to realise development and revitalisation.

In terms of policy coordination, we will make good use of the China-Fiji Joint Economic and Trade Committee as a platform to strengthen the alignment of development strategies between both sides, build more consensuses on mutually beneficial cooperation, and outline the blueprint for China-Fiji cooperation and development.

In terms of facilities connectivity, we will not only strengthen traditional infrastructure construction cooperation and open China-Fiji direct flights as soon as possible, but also enhance cooperation in “new infrastructure” construction such as digitalisation and renewable energy, providing a green and informationised boost for the development of China-Fiji cooperation.

In terms of unimpeded trade, we will accelerate the joint feasibility study of the China-Fiji Free Trade Agreement, enhance the level of trade and investment liberalisation and facilitation, and continuously unleash the vitality of mutually beneficial cooperation. At the same time, we will strengthen development cooperation in key areas such as agriculture, fisheries, sugar, and forestry based on Fiji’s key needs.

In terms of financial integration, we will encourage Chinese enterprises to increase investment and cooperation in Fiji, innovate financial cooperation between the two countries and promote “WeChat Pay” to cover more application scenarios in Fiji.

In terms of people-to-people exchanges, we will carry out more activities such as dispatching doctors, arranging art shows tour and providing educational opportunities to Fiji, strengthen youth exchanges, cultural exchanges and educational cooperation, building a bridge of friendship and understanding between the two peoples.

GT: Could you please introduce the current achievements and plans of the two countries’ cooperation in the field of climate change? As developing countries, what other cooperation can China and Pacific Island countries engage in regarding climate change in the future?

Zhou: China always upholds the concept of a global community of shared future and attaches great importance to the legitimate concerns of Pacific Island countries (PICs) regarding climate change. China regards enhancing the capacity of PICs to cope with climate change as a cooperation priority, provides climate-related supplies within the framework of South-South cooperation, trains talents in the field of climate change, and has established the China-Pacific Island Countries Climate Action Cooperation Centre as a platform for cooperation. China is willing to make joint efforts with PICs and give full play to China-Pacific Island Countries Climate Action Cooperation Center. We can jointly carry out climate change research, advocate a green and low-carbon lifestyle, promote green transformation and development, and increase financial and material assistance to PICs, in order to address climate change together.

China and Fiji are both victims of climate change, as well as allies in addressing climate change and activists of practical climate action. Cooperation between China and Fiji in addressing climate change has become an important part and highlight of China’s cooperation with PICs. China and Fiji jointly advocate the effective implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement, and support cooperation among countries to address climate change. We call on developed countries to face up to their historical responsibilities and increase support for developing countries in finance, technology as well as capacity building.

In May 2022, the two sides signed a MOU on the Provision of Goods under South-South Cooperation for Addressing Climate Change. In March of this year, a project offering Fiji with roadway lighting LED lights and household solar power system was launched and implemented. This project is an important outcome of the joint efforts of the two countries to combat climate change. It includes 4,300 sets of LED streetlight heads, 50 lamp posts and 2,000 household solar power systems. Our Fijian friends told us that the project has benefited nearly 30,000 Fijian people, and has provided electric lights to many remote villages for the first time. This not only enhances safety during night walks, but also makes a positive contribution to addressing climate change.

Looking ahead, China is willing to further expand cooperation with Fiji in the field of clean energy, such as photovoltaic, to help Fiji effectively reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. China will also actively carry out personnel training and provide more material assistance to help Fiji cope with climate change. These efforts will enable the Fijian people to enjoy a greener and low-carbon lifestyle and support Fiji in achieving resilient and sustainable development.

GT: Some Western politicians and media have smeared China’s increasing influence in the Pacific region, what is your response to these attacks?

Zhou: China is not a newcomer to the Pacific region, but rather an old friend with PICs, sharing long-time bonds. China’s traditional friendship with PICs has a rich history. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two sides nearly half a century ago, China has consistently upheld principles of mutual respect, equal treatment, win-win cooperation, openness, and inclusiveness to deepen relations with PICs. All countries are equal regardless of their sizes. China respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of PICs and respects their exploration of development paths in line with their own national conditions. During exchanges and cooperation with PICs, China does not interfere in their internal affairs, attach any political strings or seek any geopolitical interests. China is committed to deepening practical cooperation with PICs in various fields, sincerely helping them boost economy, improve people’s livelihoods and enhance their capacity for independent development, as well as share the dividends of China’s own development with their people.

China acts as a builder, helper and collaborator in the development and revitalisation of PICs, rather than a disruptor, troublemaker or controller of regional security and stability. China has participated in the construction of important infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges, gyms and schools, which have not only helped improve the self-development capabilities of the local people but also brought tangible benefits. These achievements serve as a vivid portrayal of China-PICs relations and a monument to China-PICs pragmatic cooperation. No attacks or smears can erase these achievements.

Some countries have long ignored the Pacific region. They treated it as a nuclear testing ground, ignored the local people’s aspirations for development and happiness, and attempted to drag the PICs into an arena of geopolitical competition. Such attempts are doomed to failure. The South Pacific region is the home to PICs, not the backyard of external powers. It is a stage for cooperation, rather than an arena for vicious competition. The PICs are all sovereign and independent states, with the right to make their own choices, rather than being vassals of others. China has no intention to engage in so-called competition with certain countries in the South Pacific region. If there has to be a competition, it should be about who can provide more effective assistance to PICs, help them realise development by eliminating poverty. We believe that the people of PICs have discerning eyes and can see clearly who is contributing to their development and revitalization, and who are the troublemakers disrupting regional stability.

GT: The Japanese government kicked off their plan to dump the nuclear-contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean on August 24, opening a Pandora’s Box of unfathomable consequences. What are your comments on the behaviour of the Japanese government’s dumping of nuclear-contaminated water? What kind of impact do you think the dumping of nuclear-contaminated water will have on South Pacific countries? 

Zhou: The ocean is the foundation on which PICs survive, and the marine environment concerns the well-being of future generations. The people of PICs love the ocean as much as they cherish their own eyes. In disregard of the strong criticism and opposition from PICs and the international community, Japan unilaterally started the release of the Fukushima nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean, causing serious harm to the global marine environment.

The harm caused by the discharge of nuclear-contaminated water cannot be ignored. Nuclear-contaminated water is completely different from nuclear wastewater in general sense. It comes into direct contact with the reactor core and contains more than 60 radionuclides, including Tritium with a half-life of about 13 years and Carbon-14 with a half-life of over 5,000 years. There is still no effective treatment technology for many of these radionuclides, and some long-lived nuclides may diffuse with ocean currents, which will have an incalculable impact on the ecological balance and marine environment of neighboring countries’ waters.

The Fukushima nuclear plant accident produced more than 1.3 million tons of nuclear-contaminated water, with an additional 100 tons produced daily. It is estimated to be discharged into the ocean for approximately 30 years. A report by the German Institute for Marine Research has shown that radioactive substances will spread to most of the Pacific Ocean within 57 days from the date of discharge, and will reach the entire global ocean within 10 years. Such actions will bring endless troubles to the international community and future generations.

The Japanese government has not seriously responded to the international concerns and addressed them accordingly. So far, the Japanese government has yet to prove the legitimacy and legality of its discharge plan, the long-term reliability of the purification facility, and the authenticity and accuracy of the nuclear-contaminated water data. It has yet to deliver on its commitments to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the international community, and establish an international long-term monitoring and on-site supervision arrangement led by the IAEA with full participation of state stakeholders. Instead, Japan has been trying to create an impression that the ocean discharge is safe and harmless. It has even made unfounded accusations against neighbouring countries who have expressed legitimate concerns. All of these have caused outrage among people in neighboring countries and in Japan.

PICs and neighbouring countries of Japan strongly oppose the dumping of the Fukushima nuclear-contaminated water. Some analysts have pointed out that after the dumping, due to the large-scale circulation of ocean currents, PICs will be affected the fastest and most directly. PICs and Japan’s neighboring countries have repeatedly expressed serious concerns over Japan’s wrong decision. Mr Henry Puna, Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum, stressed that Japan’s decision to discharge the nuclear contaminated water into the sea is not a domestic matter of Japan, but a global issue. The Pacific Elders’ Voice, a group composed of former political leaders from PICs, has repeatedly made public statements condemning the Japanese government’s behavior.

China firmly opposes and strongly condemns the Japanese government’s dumping of Fukushima nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean, and strongly urges the Japanese government to stop its wrongdoing and immediately cancel the plan. The Japanese government should fully respond to the concerns of the international community, fulfill its moral responsibilities and international legal obligations, make sure to handle Fukushima nuclear-contaminated water in a truly responsible, safe and effective manner, accept rigorous international oversight and avoid causing irreversible harm to the global marine ecosystem and human health.