ASIA-PACIFIC: by Trevor LoudonNews Weekly
China's power projection in Fiji
, October 11, 2008
Beijing seems poised to upgrade its economic relationship with Fiji to a political and military one, writes Trevor Loudon.Fiji's "interim" prime minister Commodore Voreque "Frank" Bainimarama has once again played the China card.
Chinese firm Sinohydro has signed a F$230 million contract with the Fiji Electricity Authority to build an hydro-electric dam at Nadarivatu. The project, to be completed by 2011, will produce 41.7 megawatts of power, or about 90 per cent of Fiji's electricity needs. The cash-strapped Fijian Government is relying on Chinese finance to fund the project.
Bainimarama, in his September 8 address at the signing of the contract for the Nadarivatu hydro-power project, openly acknowledged to the Chinese ambassador to Fiji, the assistant governor of China Development Bank and the vice-president of Sinohydro Corporation: "The signing of the contract today between Sinohydro Corporation Limited and the Fiji Electricity Authority would not have been possible without funding from the China Development Bank."Chinese dignatories
This development comes on top of a recent speech given by Bainimarama at an August 11 Fiji Night reception at the Xinhai Jinjian hotel Beijing. The Fijian military dictator told the assembled Chinese dignitaries: "Since Fiji and mainland China established diplomatic relations in 1975, relations between the two countries have grown steadily from strength to strength, founded on the basis of respect of each other's sovereignty.
"Fiji will not forget that, when other countries were quick to condemn us following the events of 1987, 2000 and in 2006, China and other friends in Asia demonstrated a more understanding and sensitive approach to events in Fiji.
"The Government of the Peoples' Republic of China expressed confidence in our ability to resolve our problems in our way, without undue pressure or interference. The Chinese Government even went further to provide much needed development assistance in crucial areas of development. Our national sports complex is a tangible example.
"Fiji, on its part, will continue its 'look north policy' to strengthen our relations with Asia in general and China in particular, as we look for new markets to help us meet our trade and investment aspirations...
"I also reiterate Fiji's strong and continuing commitment to the 'one China policy' and our fervent hope that we will go forward to a new and fruitful era in Fiji-China friendship and relationship."
There is every possibility that increased Sino-Fijian economic ties may develop into a full-blown political, or even military, relationship. In December 2006, Bainimarama told an Australian newspaper: "I've already made an official visit [to Beijing] at the invitation of the People's Liberation Army and we've had two senior officers at China's defence college since 2000." (The Age, Melbourne, December 30, 2006).
Could the Nadarivatu hydro-power project lead on to more projects of an overtly military nature?
The dam project will require support from China in terms of shipping, engineering personnel and infrastructure. By 2011, the Fiji Government and people may be so accustomed to this large Chinese presence and the on-flowing economic benefits that a transfer to a regular official military People's Liberation Army naval presence may come to be seen as a welcome follow-on.Base in the South Pacific
Militarily, as the PLA increases its ability to conduct long-range anti-ship ballistic missile warfare, Beijing will come to regard a base in the South Pacific as highly desirable.
A Fijian naval base would help the PLA to out-flank the growing US military presence on Guam and to draw much closer to the crucial US missile and space support facilities in Kwajelain.
Additionally, the increased radar coverage a Fijian base would give the PLA would compromise the entire region as a safe transit zone for US naval forces. In the event that US warships had to rapidly cross the Pacific, in response to an emergency in Taiwan or elsewhere, their safe passage would be placed in doubt.
Are we are now seeing Chinese power projection in action?- Trevor Loudon, a Christchurch businessman, is a specialist on the hard Left in New Zealand and overseas. His New Zeal blog and website can be reached at: www.newzeal.blogspot.com