Fiji has come under global scanner following its decision to withdraw from the list of countries criticising China’s human rights violations of Uyghur and Muslim minorities within days of issuing the joint declaration.
An island country and archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean was the only Pacific country with diplomatic links to China to throw its weight behind the motion. Fifty-one United Nations member countries recently issued a joint declaration condemning the Chinese government’s crimes against humanity committed against Uyghurs and other Turkic communities, and calling on Beijing to end its systematic human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region.However, Fiji’s withdrawal has raised concerns about the potential for China to influence the foreign policy of smaller countries.
The cross-regional statement, delivered to the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee by Britain’s Deputy Permanent Representative James Kariuki on October 18, said: “Members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang continue to suffer serious violations of their human rights.”
Fiji made a `U’ turn in less than a week’s time allegedly under pressure from China and appears to have decided against the statement. According to ABC report, they have been told that China has been pushing Fiji to backtrack and that Fijian officials had quietly approached the statement’s backers, asking whether it would be possible to remove its name. One senior Fiji government source also told the ABC that the Foreign Affairs Secretary had instructed its mission in New York to “withdraw” from the statement, and suggested that its diplomats signed on without authorisation from Suva. They said consistent with their policy of non interference, Fiji should be abstaining from supporting such statements, reported ABC. They said by co-signing the statement, Fiji is deviating from its no interference policy and more important is that its impact on Fiji’s bilateral relations with People’s Republic of China.
The cross-regional statement, delivered to the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee by Britain’s Deputy Permanent Representative James Kariuki said that members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang continue to suffer serious violations of their human rights. The statement had quoted the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ damning
August 2022 report on Xinjiang, which concluded that the abuses were so severe and widespread that they “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.”
The UN report corroborated the findings of leading human rights bodies regarding mass detention, torture, cultural persecution, forced labor, and other serious rights violations against Turkic Muslim communities in Xinjiang. The statement’s signatories include Britain, the US, France, Germany, Japan, Australia, Eswatini, Liberia, Guatemala, Paraguay, Fiji, Nauru, Palau, and others.
With the exit of pacific island nation, China may have succeeded in pressuring Fiji because former is Fiji’s largest trading partner and has provided significant financial assistance to the country in recent years. Human rights groups have condemned the withdrawal, saying that it sends a message of impunity to the Chinese government.
Experts do not rule out the possibility of China’s growing closeness with Fiji and other countries in the Pacific Islands, may have played a key role. It may be mentioned here that Fiji’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Tourism and Civil Aviation Viliame R. Gavoka was in Beijing for the 3rd Belt and Road Forum meeting, lauded the relations between China and his country. According to him, the relations between China and Fiji were “solid and inclusive,” and the two countries weremyname “relating to each other as families,” Fiji’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Tourism and Civil Aviation Viliame R. Gavoka told the Global Times in a recent exclusive interview. Fiji wants to be an active participant of the BRI, to “grow our society and develop our country,” noted Gavoka.
As far as China was concerned, it reached a number of pragmatic cooperation projects with Fiji, as well as other PICs. According to a list released by the BRF, China will continue promoting and cooperating the Juncao technology with countries including Fiji and Papua New Guinea.
At the same time, a few experts seemed confused by the turn of events in Fiji in the last few months.In January, Fijian Prime Minister SitiveniRabuka announced end pf a police training and exchange agreement with China due to different democratic and justice systems , paving the way for getting close to Australia and New Zealand.
Fiji’s prime minister, SitiveniRabuka’s recent remarks that the Pacific islands should be a “zone of peace”, adding that he hoped a rivalry between the US and China in the strategic region does not develop into a military conflict.
Rabuka made remarks at a summit meeting of several Pacific island leaders in August. The meeting was attended by leaders of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia’s ruling FLNKS party.