A senior leader in the Pacific warned the US and Australia not to abandon the region and called for an “ocean of peace” to cool strategic competition between Beijing and Washington.
(Bloomberg) — A senior leader in the Pacific warned the US 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.”
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 harbor just 2,000 kilometers (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.
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.
Since coming to power, Rabuka has floated the possibility of canceling a policing agreement that the previous government signed with China. His government also allowed Taiwan’s unofficial embassy in Fiji to change its name to include “Republic of China” and restored diplomatic privileges. It reversed that decision in June, according to Taiwan’s state news agency CNA.
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