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Fiji’s leader says that after meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping, he hopes to collaborate with China on upgrading his nation’s shipyards and ports.
Sitiveni Rabuka made the remarks to lawmakers in Parliament on Wednesday.
Rabuka is generally viewed as leaning less toward China than his predecessor Frank Bainimarama, and in a visit to Australia last month, Rabuka emphasized he was “more comfortable dealing with traditional friends” such as Australia.
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But in his Wednesday remarks, Rabuka highlighted the economic ties his small South Pacific island nation has forged with China over 50 years of diplomatic relations.
Rabuka said that in his meeting with Xi last week on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in San Francisco, he discussed how China’s assistance was pivotal to Fiji’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery.
Rabuka said China’s Belt and Road Initiative aligned with Fiji’s development agenda and that China had contributed toward a number of grants and assistance packages.
Fijis Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka is seen at the U.S.-Pacific Islands Forum Summit in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Sept. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
“As we navigate economic challenges, discussions are underway to address our debt crisis responsibly,” Rabuka said.
He said a key focus of creating sustainable economic growth in Fiji was the comprehensive upgrade of infrastructure, particularly port facilities and shipyards.
“I anticipate potential collaboration with China in that endeavor, given China’s globally competitive shipbuilding,” Rabuka said.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a daily briefing that China and Fiji are good friends and partners, and have previously cooperated on infrastructure.
“The goal is to support island countries in making life better for their people and achieving development and prosperity,” Mao said.
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Fiji’s move comes as China looks to expand its influence in the Pacific. Last year, China fell short in an ambitious attempt to get 10 small Pacific nations to sign onto a sweeping deal covering everything from security to fisheries. The attempt came soon after Solomon Islands signed a security pact with China, a move that raised alarm throughout the Pacific.