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Australia Urges China to Stop Supporting Fiji's Military Government


Australia has been pressing China to reduce its support for the military government in Fiji. Canberra has been leading international calls for a boycott of the government of armed forces chief, Commodore Frank Bainimarama. But the Chinese have quietly increased aid to the troubled South Pacific country.

The concern among many in Australia is that China's apparent effort to use money as a persuasive diplomatic tool in the South Pacific undermines international efforts to isolated Fiji's military government.

Since Commodore Frank Bainimarama's troops seized power in 2006, Beijing's aid pledges to Fiji have increased seven-fold, to $160 million.

Buying influence?

China has been keen to spend big in the region to win a diplomatic battle with Taiwan for the support and recognition of island nations.

Fiji's military has sought to cash in on this political competition, according to Fergus Hanson, a research fellow at Australia's Lowy Institute for International Policy.

"As the international community came down on Fiji following the coup and increasingly isolated the regime, I would imagine that the coup leaders would have been casting around for funds and playing off China and Taiwan against each other would have been an obvious trick to play," Hanson said. "So, that was initially, I think, a key driver. Now we have had a bit of reconciliation between China and Taiwan, I think things might be starting to change."

Regional condemnation of Beijing's support

Australian and New Zealand officials have raised their concerns with China about its support for Fiji.

Canberra and Wellington believe a concerted international approach to the dismantling of democracy there is the best way to convince Commodore Bainimarama to relinquish power.

Fiji faces suspension from both the Commonwealth of former British colonies, and the Pacific Islands Forum, the region's key political and trade bloc. That prospect does not seem to worry Fiji's military.

Arrogant dictator?

The most recent unrest, which saw Fiji's president scrap the constitution after judges ruled the army's power grab illegal, has seen the army's position strengthened, with senior officers insisting that fresh elections could well be more than five years away.

The army seized control in Fiji almost two-and-a-half years ago, accusing the elected government of Laisenia Qarase of corruption and of pursuing racist policies against the country's ethnic Indian minority.

Commodore Bainimarama said Fiji's political system would have to be cleansed before democracy could be revived.

His critics accuse him of being an arrogant dictator, who was leading his country of 800,000 people towards economic collapse and international isolation.

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