Fiji and New Zealand are set to finalize a military agreement next week to deepen security ties, the Fijian leader said on Wednesday, as the Pacific nation placed China’s police cooperation deal under review.
Fijian Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka made the remarks during his visit to New Zealand this week, where he met with New Zealand’s Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and other government officials.
Rabuka said the new military deal will allow Fijian defense officials “to undertake engagement in different areas, including capacity building and upskilling and exposure to new technologies interoperability and technical support, among others.”
Geopolitical competition in the Pacific intensified after China struck a military deal with the Solomon Islands last year, which Pacific nations fear could allow China to station its troops and weapons on the island.
Rabuka believed that militarization could be averted through the pursuit of “diplomacy and common neighborly discussions.”
He also hinted at the possibility of Fiji terminating its policing agreement with China, which his predecessor Frank Bainimarama signed in 2011, citing the differences in their respective systems and values.
“If our systems and our values differ, what cooperation can we get from them?” the Fijian leader said, referring to the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in China.
“We need to look at that again before we decide whether we go back to it or if we continue the way that we have in the past by cooperating with those who have similar democratic values and systems,” he added.
Meanwhile, Hipkins said that his nation would provide a further NZ$11.1 million ($6.75 million) in climate change support to Fiji, adding that their bilateral relations were founded on “friendship and mutual respect.”
The Fiji-China policing agreement allows Fijian police officers to receive training in China and Chinese officers to be deployed to Fiji on attachment programs.
Rabuka has previously said that Fijian security forces would work with personnel from Australia and New Zealand, who he believes have systems comparable to Fiji.
In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in January, Rabuka said that China’s reemergence in the Pacific region had the potential to “reform the peaceful atmosphere we now have.”
“That is something we have to avoid, and it can be avoided by frank responsible dialogue,” he told the news agency.
Rabuka said he thought Australia and the United States had an antiquated way of approaching diplomatic ties and engagement with Fiji.
Comparing the two partners to their Pacific rival, China, Rabuka noted he saw the Asian nation as having a different strategy.
“China has come in with a blank sheet of paper. They have seen us as just development partners,” he said.
Bainimarama and former police commissioner Sitiveni Qiliho, who oversaw the China policing deal, face criminal charges of abusing their power, as does former Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, who was widely seen as Bainimarama’s right-hand man.
Rabuka’s remarks came weeks after Papua New Guinea signed a defense cooperation agreement with the United States on May 22 to solidify their bilateral ties. Washington also signed agreements with Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia.
Victoria Kelly-Clark and the Associated Press contributed to this report.