Relations with Beijing and the West weigh heavily on Fiji election stalmate
Premier Bainimarama, behind more open relations with China, is in danger of losing power after 16 years. His antagonist Rabuka wants to distance himself from China. The needle in the balance is a Christian-inspired formation. Beijing seeks to expand its influence in the South Pacific, opposed by the USA, Australia and New Zealand.
Beijing (AsiaNews) - The electoral stalemate in Fiji is affected by relations with China and the delicate balance in relations with the United States, Australia and New Zealand. The vote on 14th December did not produce a clear winner: Premier Frank Bainimarama's party did not obtain a majority, nor did the opposition coalition led by Sitiveni Rabuka.
The incumbent prime minister has led the country for 16 years, having seized power in a coup. During his government, Fiji has forged stronger ties with China, while at the same time trying to maintain good relations with Washington, Canberra and Wellington.
Today about 10,000 Chinese live in the archipelago and not all Fijians are happy with this presence. Rabuka - himself a former military coup leader - has declared that if he wins the elections he will distance himself from Beijing. The needle in the balance to form the new executive is Sodelpa, a Christian-inspired party that does not want security agreements with the Chinese and pushes for a foreign policy more aligned with Australia and New Zealand.
The South Pacific is a region of significant strategic value in the geopolitical confrontation between China and the United States. In May, Beijing signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands, the terms of which are secret. Among other things, it would grant Chinese warships the right to make port calls and refuelling operations in the archipelago's ports.
The Solomons' premier, Manasseh Sogavare, has said repeatedly that the agreement does not provide for China to be granted a naval base in his country. Australians, New Zealanders and the US have expressed concern about the Honiara decision, pointing out that it will have repercussions for regional security.
Washington and its allies fear that Beijing will succeed in establishing military posts in the South Pacific as it has done in the South China Sea. From the perspective of containing China, this would pose a direct threat to the US Navy's naval links between Hawaii and the western Pacific.
A few days after the formalisation of the China-Solomon agreement, the other South Pacific island nations rejected China's offer of a grand regional pact on trade and security.
The Lowy Institute notes that Beijing has worked to increase its influence in the region while its financial commitment to the countries concerned has decreased. While Chinese loans and aid to South Pacific nations amounted to 4 million in 2008, rising to 4 million in 2016, it fell to 8 million in 2020.
To counterbalance China's advance in the region, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain, on the other hand, have returned to strengthen their presence and financial support.