Wednesday Feb 08, 2023

Fiji PM hails Wong and gives Morrison a subtle serve


Fiji’s prime minister has praised Australia’s new foreign minister following her first visit to the Pacific, and appeared to take a swipe at comments by Scott Morrison referring to the region at Australia’s “backyard”.

“Fiji is not anyone’s ‘backyard’ – we are a part of a Pacific family,” Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama wrote on Twitter on Saturday.

“And our greatest concern isn’t geopolitics – it’s climate change.

“In that spirit, I had a wonderful meeting with Foreign Minister (Penny Wong) to strengthen our vuvale partnership with Australia,” he said, using a Fijian word meaning “friendship”.

The post included a photo of Mr Bainimarama and Senator Wong smiling and shaking hands.

Mr Bainimarama appeared to be taking a thinly-veiled swipe at former prime minister Scott Morrison, who in 2019 referred to the Pacific as Australia’s “backyard”.

Fiji’s Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum also thanked Senator Wong for choosing the Pacific country for her first individual trip after being sworn in.

“As part of great discussion, we’ve called the climate crisis by its name and committed to tackle it together,” Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said Friday.

Next week Fiji officials, including the prime minister, will meet Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

Next up, China’s Wang

Wang expressed hope Beijing’s ties with the Solomon Islands could be a regional model.

Meanwhile, Senator Wong has used her visit to Fiji to pledge Australia’s support in the region.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said support would be the first step, and Australia could differentiate its offering to the Pacific from what China has pledged.

“What we can offer is no-strings-attached and that’s the big difference,” Mr Albanese said. “We can offer respect for the sovereignty of our Pacific island neighbours.

“We can offer the long-term support and relationships that Australia has with our Pacific island neighbours.”

China is seeking a sweeping 10-nation deal on security and trade that has unsettled the United States and its Pacific allies, including Australia. Wang is expected to push for the deal in a meeting he will host on Monday in Fiji.

Senator Wong warned there were regional consequences to a security pact between Solomon Islands and China after the Chinese minister said interference in the deal would fail.


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