Fiji to maintain China-India balance

Yogesh Punja  

Both India and China are important partners of Fiji and the island nation will continue to strengthen ties with the two Asian giants, its High Commissioner to India, Yogesh Punja, has said.

“It’s a balancing act... We are engaging with both. We have good relationship with both countries. We have defence cooperation not only with China but Russia at the same time. We have all the players on the table, depending on who has more love,” Mr. Punja told The Hindu in an interview. “I am not saying no to one and yes to the other. We work with both. The more love goes to the one who gives us more love in return.”

He said that politically Fiji was more attached to India. “We have more in common with India. We understand the aspirations of India.” Of the 9,00,000 people of the south Pacific island nation, some 40% are of Indian origin.

Infra project

Asked about Fiji’s participation in the China-led transborder infrastructure project, Belt and Road Initiative, Mr. Punja said his country had signed up with the Chinese for several infrastructure projects but “we do not want to be dependent on loans.”

In an indirect reference to China’s debt diplomacy, which faces criticism for entrapping smaller powers in prolonged debt burdens, the High Commissioner said: “The Chinese experience in the Pacific is well known... We have learnt from what we have seen. We are using Chinese loans for our infrastructure development...[but] the government is functioning with the agenda that we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

Defence agreement

Both India and Fiji signed a defence agreement in 2017 with a goal to deepen cooperation in maritime security and provide training for Fiji troops. Asked about the pact, the High Commissioner said he can’t discuss the details of defence cooperation. “But we are bringing personnel here for training purposes and we are also negotiating for some equipment and things like that. It’s all there.”

He added that there are a number of areas other than defence that both sides have identified to strengthen bilateral ties. “We have close to 28 MoUs on the table,” said the envoy. These include MoUs on sugar industry, agriculture and tourism. Fiji is a major producer of sugar. The state-owned Fiji Sugar Corporation (FSC) is the largest public enterprise in the country, employing some 3,000 people.

Mr. Punja added that Fiji is planning to focus on attracting more Indian tourists to the country.

Climate change

S.N. Srikanth, Honorary Consul of Fiji, said that the Consulate in Chennai would announce some initiatives in collaboration with the High Commission to create awareness of climate change in South India and to make available the experience and expertise that Fiji has in these matters.