Minister for Home Affairs Pio Tikoduadua

Fiji will continue police cooperation with China but won’t have Chinese officers stationed inside its force, a government minister said, following a review of security relations that highlighted the Pacific island country’s balancing act between economic reliance on China and security ties to the U.S and its allies.

A police cooperation agreement between Fiji and China, signed in 2011 when Fiji was under military rule, was put on review last year after Fiji’s first change of government in nearly two decades.

New Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka, who has favored closer ties with Australia, New Zealand and the U.S., had said he wanted to terminate the agreement because it wasn’t consistent with Fiji’s democracy.

“We are a democratic nation. We aspire to democratic principles. At the same time there are things to learn with everyone else,” Fiji Home Affairs Minister Pio Tikoduadua said Wednesday in a radio interview with Australian state broadcaster ABC.

Under the policing pact, Fijian police officers undertook training in China, Chinese officers had regular short-term deployments in Fiji and China donated equipment and surveillance technology such as drones. It was China’s most extensive security cooperation with a Pacific island country until it signed a secretive security pact with the Solomon Islands in 2022.

China’s relations with Fiji burgeoned after Australia, New Zealand, the U.S and other countries sought to punish it for military chief Frank Bainimarama’s 2006 coup that overthrew the elected government.

Tikoduadua said the memorandum of understanding with China’s Ministry of Public Security was unchanged following the review, but Fiji decides what it implements. The Fijian government, he said, would reassess the agreement every six months.

Fijian police officers would continue to train in China but there would not be deployments of Chinese officers inside the Fijian force, according to Tikoduadua. Intelligence sharing could also be curtailed.

“I can assure that we have asked the Chinese to take the [embedded police] out,” he said

“One area that we were concerned with at the beginning and which is the subject of our review is in the area of intelligence sharing,” Tikoduadua said. “We would like to review that in terms of what we necessarily have to share. I cannot go into detail but that is an important area.”

Tikoduadua said Rabuka supported the decision to keep the police agreement in place. Rabuka himself has not issued a statement on the decision.

China, over several decades, has become a substantial source of trade, infrastructure and aid for developing Pacific island countries as it seeks to isolate Taiwan diplomatically and gain allies or leverage in global institutions. Its inroads with Pacific island nations have caused concern for countries such as Australia and the United States who see the region as vital to their security and defense.
Through police cooperation agreements China’s government may also be aiming to protect its economic interests in Pacific island nations and the Chinese diaspora, analysts have said. Beijing’s security pact with the Solomon Islands followed anti-government and anti-China riots in November 2021 that destroyed the Chinatown in the Solomon Islands’ capital.

Tikoduadua said Fiji was facing an increase in illegal drug use and needed help to manage the situation.

“We need every assistance that we can get to help Fiji and our community. And if we need to go to China to clean Fiji of this problem then we will do it,” he said. “But we do it with people and nations who respect us as an equal partner.”

Bainimarama, who after his coup became Fiji’s prime minister until 2022 and led the fostering of ties with China, will be sentenced later this month after a court ruled he had interfered in a police investigation into financial problems at the Pacific’s regional university.