Graham Davis | May 01, 2009
Article from: The Australian
The morning I visit the PM’s office, I’m ushered briefly into back-to-back meetings between Bainimarama and Chinese ambassador Han Zhiqiang and Indian high commissioner Prabhakara Jha, both of whom clearly have warm personal relationships with the dictator. In stark contrast, Bainimarama tells me, neither Australian high commissioner James Batley nor his NZ counterpart have been prepared to meet him since the 2006 coup. However principled that may seem from Canberra and Wellington, it’s rendering both countries increasingly irrelevant when it comes to influencing events in Fiji.
“We have a wonderful relationship with China and we’re trying to build on that,” Bainimarama enthuses. He’s clearly grateful for a published seven-fold increase in Chinese aid in the year after his coup, evidently much more since and the prospect of more to come.
“Yes, the Chinese are giving us money,” he says, without revealing how much except for a $US1 million ($1.37 million) donation to the Prime Minister’s Office for Disaster Relief.
“They’re very sympathetic and understand what’s happening here, that we need to do things in our own way,” he says.
China has embarked on several infrastructure projects, including a hydro-electric scheme on the main island, Viti Levu, that will employ 300 imported Chinese workers. Signs of an increased Chinese presence abound, from shops and bars to ships in port and Chinese trucks sporting Chinese lettering, plus the ubiquitous red star, plying Fiji’s roads.
What riles Bainimarama is the perceived double standard of Australia and NZ shunning Fiji while not just engaging the dictatorship in China but actively promoting its interests in global forums. “With Fiji, they’ve approached just about everyone in the world to stay away and asked the UN to have us removed from peacekeeping operations. That will fail,” Bainimarama insists.