Fiji's leaders look to China
The military-installed government is shunned by its old South Pacific allies
SUVA, Fiji » Fiji's new military-installed government will build alliances with China and other Asian nations after being shunned by Australia and other South Pacific neighbors for coming to power in a coup, the foreign minister said yesterday.
Fiji's economy has plummeted since a bloodless Dec. 5 coup, and the damage was worsened by sanctions and diplomatic rebukes from Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Europe and other Pacific island countries.
Military commander Commodore Frank Bainimarama has defied international pressure to restore the elected government, and was sworn in Friday as prime minister. Eight ministers were sworn in as Cabinet members yesterday, solidifying Bainimarama's grip on power after Fiji's fourth coup in 20 years. More posts were expected today.
New Foreign Minister Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, a former army commander, said the new government would try to restore trade and diplomatic ties with its neighbors but that it would also seek to strengthen ties with China and other Asian countries.
Nailatikau told reporters that he expected ties with Australia, New Zealand and other South Pacific countries would eventually improve and that their sanctions would not deter the new government's plans.
"That's part and parcel of this game," he said. "Those countries have the right to do that. We have to abide by it, but at the same time, we will be talking to them and seeing what we can do about it."
Bainimarama has promised to call elections to restore democracy after cleaning up alleged corruption associated with the ousted government of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase.
The new attorney general, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, said no time frame had been set for the elections, which would only go ahead after comprehensive electoral reform was undertaken, including redrawing district boundaries and a census.
The coup was the culmination of a long impasse between Bainimarama and Qarase over bills offering pardons to conspirators in the 2000 coup and handing lucrative coastal land ownership to indigenous Fijians. Bainimarama, himself an indigenous Fijian, said the bills were unfair to the island's ethnic Indian minority.