SUVA, Fiji ( Associated Press) – For Georgina Matilda, working for Chinese infrastructure company China Railway means she can put food on the table for her children.
Like many Fijians, Matilda sees a profit in foreign investment, depending on where it comes from, as long as it uplifts the people.
“I think the Chinese are coming to Fiji well,” said Milian Rokolita, another Fijian. “They bring us to the big house. They bring money to Fiji. They’re good people.”
The welcoming attitude of many in Fiji and elsewhere in the South Pacific comes when Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi goes on an island-hopping trip amid growing international concerns About Beijing’s military and financial ambitions in the region.
On Monday, Wang hosts a key meeting in Fiji with foreign ministers from 10 Pacific countries he hopes will support a comprehensive new agreement Covering everything from security to fishing.
But some nations are pushing back. Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo has told other leaders he would not support the plan, warning them in a letter that it would unnecessarily escalate geopolitical tensions and threaten regional stability.
Panuelo called it “the most game-changing proposed settlement in the Pacific in any of our lifetimes” and said it “threatens to bring about a new Cold War era and the worst world war ever.”
A draft of the agreement obtained by the Associated Press suggests China Pacific wants to train police officers, team up on “traditional and non-traditional security” and expand law enforcement cooperation.
China also wants to jointly develop a maritime plan for fisheries – which will include the Pacific’s lucrative tuna catches – increasing cooperation on running the region’s Internet network, and establishing cultural Confucian institutes and classrooms. China also mentions the possibility of establishing free trade zones with Pacific countries.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a speech: On Thursday, China posed an even more serious long-term threat than Russia.
“China is the only country that has the intention of reshaping the international order – and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to do so,” he said. “Beijing’s vision will take us away from the universal values that have sustained so much of the world’s progress over the past 75 years.”
China retaliated, saying that America is spreading propaganda. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Blinken’s speech was intended to “stop and stifle China’s development and maintain US hegemony”. “We strongly condemn and reject it.”
China says that in the Pacific, cooperation between Beijing and the island nations is progressing in a development that those countries have welcomed.
In Fiji, the economy was badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic. The vital tourism industry shut down overnight and GDP declined by more than 15%. Fiji is trying to bounce back as the world reopens, and many are happy to see China writing checks.
China’s involvement in this area is not fully revealed. Fiji has a long history of Chinese immigration, with many Chinese running Fiji’s corner stores and other businesses.
“There’s a good side and a bad side,” said Nora Nabuke, a student at the University of the South Pacific. “We get more money into the economy, pumped in and stuff, but then there’s also a side that they bring in a lot of new things that are new to Fiji culture.”
Nabuke is concerned about the algebraic side that is associated with Chinese investments in Fiji – a predictable influx of gambling, gangs and drugs.
She said forging an alliance with China could mean that Fiji creates tensions with the United States and other Western countries, and for that reason, she expects Fiji to not support Wang’s agreement.
“If Fiji signs there is a lot more to lose in the future than what we are experiencing now,” she said.
Perry reported from Wellington, New Zealand