Singapore, Jun 12 (EFE).- Fiji’s Defense Minister Batikoto Seruiratu said on Sunday that the country would “make the most” of all of its relationships amid growing ties with China and Beijing’s offer for a multilateral security and trade agreement which has so far been rejected by the island nations of the Pacific.
“We are vigilant and we are smartly looking at all the opportunities and how we can make the most of the relationships we have,” the minister said in Singapore during a discussion as part of the Shangri-La dialog, the most important defense forum in the India-Pacific.
The Fijian minister’s statement comes after last month Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited eight countries of the region, including Fiji, to boost ties in an area which has traditionally been under the influence of Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
Although initially Wang did not make much headway on the controversial multilateral agreement on security, cooperation and trade with 10 countries in the Pacific – including Fiji – he said that the negotiations would continue.
“China is a key development partner, that is a known part and a fact accepted in the region,” said Seruiratu, although he also praised the US, the other world power which has been key to the region’s development in the past century.
“We are grateful to the Americans for what they did especially after World War II, but things have changed, and I have talked about adapting,” said the minister, who said that Fiji’s ties with its traditional allies were “stronger than ever,” and they expected this to continue.
In late May, Fiji joined the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework – an economic cooperation initiative announced this month by US President Joe Biden with the aim of countering China’s growing influence – becoming the only Pacific country to do so.
Although Seruiratu tried to placate both sides, Anthony Veke, his counterpart from neighboring Solomon Islands – a country which has recently signed a defense pact with China despite criticism by the US, New Zealand and Australia – seemed to defend his country’s proximity to Beijing.
He said that regional security could not be achieved without “domestic stability,” referring to the pact, which has been described as a way of strengthening the island nation’s security forces, even though its critics say that it could be aimed at establishing a Chinese military base in the region.
Both the ministers said that instead of the geopolitical battles caused by the rivalry between Beijing and Washington, their priority was ensuring that the world powers included measures against climate change in their projects, as it threatened their very existence.
Seruiratu said that climate security was a “matter of life and death” for Fijians and Solomon islanders, and repeated that as a small country they valued all relationships due to the need to develop their capabilities. EFE