by Fergus Hanson – August 2010
In today’s Age, Dan Flitton reports statements from Fiji’s dictator Frank Bainimarama that he wants to ditch ties with Australia and New Zealand in favour of China. While China tried to make a big splash in Fiji right after the coup, promising to deliver over $US160 million in grants and soft loans, the reality has been a little different.
After the 2006 coup, China came in strong to pre-empt Fiji making a switch to diplomatically recognising Taiwan. It handed Bainimarama US$5 million in cash, leading him to bring control over Chinese aid under his own immediate office. But since then, China and Taiwan have agreed to an informal détente, ending their damaging diplomatic competition in the region for the time being. China also seems to have felt pressure not to be seen to be lavishing aid on a pariah government.
It has gone ahead with projects like the Nadarivatu hydro project, which had been previously scoped by the World Bank, but it has been slow to disperse the other aid promised. The Fiji Government might claim this is because of disagreements over use of local labour or some such excuse, but surely it would have been in Bainimarama’s interest to see infrastructure projects rolled out on a timely basis so he could at least demonstrate some benefits from his rule?
So is China the saviour that Fiji’s strongman has been looking for? The evidence suggests it isn’t. China has been slow to unroll its aid to Fiji and there are reports it has knocked back proposals to do more. A review Mary Fifita and I are undertaking of China’s aid pledges to the region in 2009 also suggests the flows to Fiji were minimal.
Frank’s just huffing and bluffing.