Fiji PM tells Australia ‘we’re friendly with China now and the US always’ amid calls for peace in Pacific

A senior leader in the Pacific warned the United States and Australia not to abandon the region and called for an “ocean of peace” to cool strategic competition between Beijing and Washington.

Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka said that while the US was a close friend of the Pacific, for a time there was a feeling that Washington had moved away and delegated relations with the region to Australia.

“You carry that on your shoulders, friends,” he said in a speech to Australian diplomats and officials in Canberra on Tuesday evening. “Don’t abandon us again.”

We’re friendly with China now and the US always, and do not want to be caught in the struggle between the superpowers

Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka
Australia and the US ramped up diplomatic efforts in the Pacific, following a shock announcement last year the Solomon Islands signed a security agreement with the Chinese government.

While no details about the agreement have been released, a draft version allowed Chinese warships safe harbour just 2,000km (1,200 miles) from the Australian coast.

Rabuka said he applauded a “revived commitment” by the US and Australia to the region. US President Joe Biden hosted Rabuka and his fellow Pacific leaders at the White House earlier in October for the second time in two years.

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US-China rivalry was “very evident” in the Pacific, Rabuka said. “We’re friendly with China now and the US always, and do not want to be caught in the struggle between the superpowers,” he said at the event hosted by the Lowy Institute.

Rabuka took power in Fiji after winning an election in December last year, beating former leader Frank Bainimarama who had pursued warmer relations with the Chinese government.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese gestures to Rabuka during their meeting in Canberra on Wednesday. Photo: AAP Image via AP(Mick Tsikas/AAP Image via AP
After meeting Rabuka on Wednesday, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the two countries will cooperate on cybersecurity, with Australia also boosting aid to Fiji under an enhanced partnership.

Rabuka, on his first three-day official visit to Australia since becoming leader in December, said bilateral relations were warm.

“We are more comfortable dealing with traditional friends. We have similar systems of government, our democracies are the same brand of democracy,” he said.

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Albanese said Australia had agreed to provide more budget support to Fiji “to help economic recovery and to boost growth”, and would sell it 14 Bushmaster protected vehicles to support the Fiji military’s peacekeeping operations around the world.

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

Additional reporting by Reuters

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