South Pacific island countries have the say in what is safe

The Chinese Embassy in Fiji stated on March 17 that China-Fiji police cooperation has been restored. Prior to this, the British newspaper The Guardian quoted Fijian Minister for Home Affairs and Immigration Pio Tikoduadua as saying that Fiji would uphold a policing cooperation agreement with China following a 12-month review. After the new government took office in Fiji at the end of 2022, it announced a review of the memorandum of understanding enabling Fijian police officers to be trained in China signed between China and Fiji in 2011, citing differences in “values and systems” between Fiji and China and considering the possibility of cancelling it completely. At that time, some interpreted this as a blow to security cooperation between China and South Pacific island countries.

It should be said that the review is largely related to the fabrication of “China threat” theory by the US and others who exploited China-Fiji police cooperation, and even unfounded claims about China’s alleged “military presence” in an attempt to incite fear about China. In addition, with the change of government, the new government initially lacked sufficient understanding of China and the nature of the police cooperation between China and Fiji over the past years. The latest decision of the Fijian government is correctly made in line with its own interests. At the same time, it is also a powerful correction and clarification for misunderstandings or deliberate misinterpretations of China’s security cooperation with South Pacific island countries.

In fact, the police cooperation between China and Fiji that began in 2011 is representative of understanding the nature of China’s relationship with South Pacific island countries, especially in terms of security cooperation. The police cooperation between China and Fiji is based on the consideration of better safeguarding the safety of Chinese enterprises’ personnel and property in Fiji against the background of increasing economic and personnel exchanges between the two sides. More importantly, it is at the invitation of Fiji to help enhance the strength of maintaining order and social stability on the basis of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit. Whether it is the provision of police equipment or related training to Fijian police, it is specifically provided at the invitation of Fiji, and China has always adhered to the principle of non-interference in internal affairs to provide assistance to Fiji to the best of its ability.

Over the years, the cooperation between the two sides has been open and fruitful. Whether such cooperation is in line with its own interests, Fiji is certainly clearer than outsiders. Whether it is police cooperation between China and Fiji or between China and the Solomon Islands, it is evident that China’s cooperation with the local authorities focuses on improving local law-enforcement capabilities and combating crime, which is fundamentally different from the military defense strategy of building spheres of influence and exclusive alliances. Concerns about China’s influence, especially military defense strategy influence, are either excessive anxiety or self-projection.

Western countries often see themselves as “policemen” or even “sheriffs” when dealing with developing countries. In contrast, China’s dealings with South Pacific island countries adhere to the principle of “four full respects,” including fully respecting the sovereignty and independence of Pacific Island countries, and fully respecting their will. This is something that Western countries find difficult to do and are unwilling to do. Even their sudden “attention” to South Pacific island countries today is mainly driven by the motive to counter so-called Chinese influence. South Pacific island countries are very clear about this.

Fiji’s attitude toward police cooperation with China has been fluctuating and under pressure, which is not an isolated case but a real situation faced by many South Pacific island countries. Influenced by the belief that the South Pacific island countries are crucial for the US’ Indo-Pacific strategy, especially for US logistics support and force projection in the region, Washington is unprecedentedly increasing its interference in the South Pacific region, especially in terms of security cooperation. In order to enhance its own layout and influence in the region, the US is using the so-called “China threat” as a baseless excuse to create increasing pressure for countries like Fiji to take sides.

However, as a region that has not experienced interstate wars and conflicts since World War II, the security of South Pacific island countries does not equate to occupying a favorable position in the so-called great power strategic competition defined by the US, nor does it mean receiving how much military support and assistance from the US as a result. What is more alarming is that the definition of security and how to achieve it is not in the hands of the island countries. In fact, there is still too little security cooperation that can help solve the real security issues faced by South Pacific island countries, whether it is maintaining domestic social stability and order or addressing real threats such as climate change.

Whether it is Fiji or other South Pacific island countries, they have the right to choose their security partners based on their own long-term development and interests, and to formulate security policies that are in their own national interests. If South Pacific island countries are willing to let China provide assistance in maintaining social stability and basic order, China is willing to provide support to the best of its ability and is also willing to work with other countries to make more contributions to the stability and development of South Pacific island countries.