Fiji prime minister shelves China visit after falling while looking at mobile phone

Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka was due to leave on an official visit to China on Wednesday.
By Stephen Wright for BenarNews
2023.07.26
Port Vila, Vanuatu
Fiji prime minister shelves China visit after falling while looking at mobile phone Fiji's Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka speaks to media during a joint press conference with New Zealand's Prime Minister Chris Hipkins at Parliament in Wellington on June 7, 2023.
AFP

Fiji’s prime minister has canceled an official visit to China after he tripped while looking at his mobile phone and injured his head. 

Addressing Fijians from his official residence while still wearing a blood-stained shirt, Sitiveni Rabuka said in a video posted online that he fell on the steps of a government building on Tuesday and hit his head against a door.

“I’ve just come back from the hospital where I had a dressing put on my head for a small accident I had this morning,” he said. “I do not know whether my head hurts more than the door or the door hurts more than my head.”

Rabuka was due to leave on an official visit to China on Wednesday that coincides with a period of heightened rivalry between Washington and Beijing in the Pacific.

Fiji’s relations with China have burgeoned over several decades, but have been less cordial since Rabuka was elected prime minister in December, ending 16 years of rule under Frank Bainimarama. 

The Pacific island country’s ties with China had particularly blossomed after Australia, New Zealand and other countries sought to punish it for Bainimarama’s 2006 coup that ousted an elected government. It was Fiji’s fourth coup in three decades. Rabuka orchestrated two coups in the late 1980s.

Rabuka has said a police cooperation agreement with China, signed in 2011 by Bainimarama’s government, may not be consistent with Fiji’s democracy, and has put it under review. 

His government also elevated the status of Taiwan’s representation in Fiji, but reversed that step after strong protests from China, which views the democratic island as a renegade province. 

“I have had to inform China that I will not be able to undertake that trip that was coming up tomorrow night,” Rabuka said in the video. “I’m sure there will be other invitations later on.”

Rabuka said there would likely be speculation about the canceled trip but emphasized nothing was wrong. 

China, over several decades, has become a substantial source of trade, infrastructure and aid for developing Pacific island countries as it seeks to isolate Taiwan diplomatically and build its own set of global institutions. 

Last year, China signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands, alarming the United States and its allies such as Australia. The Solomons and Kiribati switched their diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taiwan in 2019.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare visited China earlier this month and was feted by its leaders. Sogavare, in turn, heaped praise on his hosts including the “visionary” leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping in a public relations win for Beijing.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is visiting Tonga, Australia and New Zealand this week as Washington continues efforts to strengthen its relationships in the region.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated online news organization.

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