'Bad manners to talk about...': Fiji PM on discussing China in Jaishankar talks
S Jaishankar in Fiji: India's external affairs minister is on a three-day visit to the Pacific island nation - that is hosting the World Hindi Conference - after which he will travel to Australia.
Fiji prime minister Sitiveni Rabuka on Thursday thanked 'great old friend' India after external affairs minister S Jaishankar - on a three-day visit to the Pacific island nation hosting the World Hindi Conference - announced a visa waiver agreement for diplomatic and official passport holders. "... very fortunate to have such a great power and economy talking to us..." Rabuka - sworn in as Fiji's PM in December - said as he deflected questions about ties with China.
"We thought it was bad manners to talk about somebody who is not in the building. We spoke about our own cooperation... we're very fortunate to have such a great power and economy talking to us," Rabuka said.
"We have great old friends. There are no really new friends in this region. We have been friends with India. We have been friends with China. We'll continue our relationship," he said when asked if China was discussed in the talks.
"Pleased to say India will always be a special friend and trusted partner..."
Questions about Fiji's relationship with China came after reports it had terminated an agreement - signed in 2011 - with Beijing to train its police.
The deal saw Fijian officers trained in China and Chinese officers deployed to Fiji for three to six months. He said officers from other countries - Australia and New Zealand - could stay because their systems were similar to Fiji.
Rabuka was quoted by The Fiji Times as saying there was no need for Chinese state security personnel to continue because 'our systems are different'.
His statement was seen by many as a snub as Beijing looks to extend its influence in Pacific and echoed those he made before elections in Fiji.
He indicated Fiji would pivot away from Beijing under his leadership and that it was time to return to a 'comfortable niche' with Australia.
In recent years, China had also invested more money in the region, particularly as loans, giving a signal for the debt trap, The Singapore Post reported.
On the visa waiver, he said: "We have a lot of Fiji travellers going to India for medical treatment, education... We will certainly benefit... on behalf of the Government of Fiji, I thank the Government of India for realising this important cooperation. I am confident that we will witness many more such initiatives unfolding through deepening of our cooperation," he said.
As a result of the visa exemption, diplomatic and official passport holders in India and Fiji will now be able to enter, transit through, stay and leave each other's territories without a visa for a period not exceeding 90 days.
The exemption will allow both countries easier access to opportunities for collaboration, discussions and meetings at all levels.
Meanwhile, Jaishankar praised India and Fiji's 'close and long-standing ties' and pointed to Delhi's assistance during the Covid pandemic as an example.
He also thanked Fiji for hosting the 12th World Hindi Conference. The minister said the arrangements made by the Fijian government were exceptional.
With input from agencies