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Fiji 'more comfortable' with traditional allies over China

October 18, 2023

Fijian Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka visited the Australian capital for talks that touched on China's attempts to expand its influence in the Pacific.

Sitiveni Rabuka shaking hands with Anthony Albanese
Sitiveni Rabuka met with Anthony Albanese in CanberraImage: Mick Tsikas/AAP/AP/picture alliance

Fiji's prime minister said his government was "more comfortable dealing with traditional friends" like Australia as China vies for greater influence in the Pacific.

Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka made the comments while meeting Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Canberra on Wednesday.

A year after Beijing stuck a security pact with the Solomon Islands that raised fears of a Chinese naval base in the region, Rabuka said China's competing geopolitical interests with the United States in the Pacific had been described as a "rivalry" and "one-upmanship."

"We're more comfortable dealing with traditional friends, that we have similar systems of government, that our democracies are the same brand of democracy, coming out of the Westminster system," he told reporters.

"Our justice system, our policing system — we're more comfortable with friends that we have had over a longer period."

Australia and Fiji boost cooperation

Albanese and Rabuka announced that the 2019 Fiji-Australia Vuvale Partnership, which deals with cooperation, consultation and friendship, would be elevated.

Australia agreed to sell 14 Australian-built Bushmaster armored military vehicles to Fiji, cooperate more closely on cybersecurity, and provide the Pacific island nation with financial aid to help the economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic that decimated tourism

Fiji will also be included in a pilot of a streamlined visa program that would make it easier for Fijians to travel to Australia.

"Pacific unity is central to the relationship in our region and Fiji plays a critical leadership role," Albanese said.

Fijian leader proposes 'zone of peace'

Rabuka, a 75-year-old former army colonel and coup leader, previously served as prime minister from 1992 until 1999.

His current government put a decade-old policing agreement with China on hold and has sought to strengthen defense ties with Australia, which has long been a key US ally.

On Tuesday, speaking at the Lowy Institute think tank in Canberra, Rabuka outlined his vision for a "zone of peace" in the Pacific.

"I come back to the US-China rivalry. It is very evident in our blue Pacific but it does not have that raw edge visible elsewhere," Rabuka said.

"Fiji's position is very clear. We are friendly with China, now, and the US, always, and do not want to be caught in the struggle between the superpowers."

zc/wmr (AP, AFP, Reuters)