Fiji’s new prime minister is pivoting away from China

Briefly: Fijian Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka has suspended the country’s police chief and signalled that he would end a controversial security agreement with China that his predecessor signed in 2011. In comments to the Fiji Times, Rabuka said that Fiji’s “system of democracy and justice systems are different so we will go back to those that have similar systems with us.”

Rabuka is (sorta) new to the job – after staging two(!) military coups in 1987, he served as prime minister from 1992-1999. Rabuka led a coalition of opposition parties that narrowly defeated incumbent Frank Bainimarama last December. Fiji maintained close ties with Beijing throughout Bainimarama’s 16-year tenure, most notably through a 2011 deal that increased cooperation between Fijian and Chinese police forces. 

Intrigue’s take: Rabuka’s rebuke is another obstacle for China’s campaign to make friends in the Pacific – last year, it failed to win support for an ambitious regional trade and security deal. Is Fiji’s new approach a temporary setback for China in the Pacific or a sign of a broader trend?

Also worth noting: 

  • Fiji’s military chief warned that he was monitoring Rabuka’s “sweeping changes” with “growing concern.” Fiji has experienced four military coups in 35 years. 
  • The US is working to reopen its embassy in Solomon Islands, which has been closed since 1993.