RNZ 7:56 pm on 29 July 2020
Fiji’s Opposition says with the rise of China’s influence in the Pacific, the government should reconsider closing its embassy in Washington DC.
Two weeks ago the Minister for Economy and Attorney-General, Aiyaz Saiyed Khaiyum, announced the permanent closures of some embassies including the mission in the United States capital.
But Social Democratic Liberal Party MP Anare Jale told Parliament the US was one of the world’s military and economic super powers.
Jale said the situation developing in the South China Sea between the US and China would have rippling effects on countries in the Asia and Pacific region.
“The rise of China’s influence in the geopolitics of the Pacific should be a major concern to Fiji and the Pacific countries especially in relation to the debt-trap diplomacy.”
Jale said it would be prudent for Fiji to keep its mission open in Washington DC as it had done in Beijing.
The government said it was cutting $US3.7 million across its foreign missions by centralising country accreditation.
Khaiyum said other missions in Seoul, Port Moresby, Brussels and Kuala Lumpur would also be closed permanently.
“Instead, embassies in Geneva, New York, Tokyo, London, Abu Dhabi, Wellington, Beijing, Jakarta, New Delhi and Canberra will expand country accreditation and engage more locally-based staff,” he said.
“For example, the New York Mission will represent Fiji in Washington, which is only one hour away by plane.”
But in his address on the Budget debate this week, Jale said the US was one of Fiji’s traditional partners and “we have stood side by side in times of peace and war”.
The SODELPA member said Fiji had benefited from the US in terms of aid, training and security operations.
“We have also benefited from the remittances that our people living and working in the United States have been sending to Fiji,” he said.
“If the Fiji mission in Washington DC closes, would this cause the US government to consider closing its embassy in Suva?”
Call to keep Brussels bureau open
Jale said the government should also reconsider its plan to shut the Brussels mission.
He said Brussels was the centre of the European Union which he added was a major development partner to the Pacific, especially for Fiji.
He said the EU aid to Fiji was mainly funded via its European Development Fund.
“The current national funding cycle for 2014-2020 amounts to about $US33m,” he said.
Jale pointed out that Fiji had benefited under the regional indicative programme for the Pacific since 2014.
“Our Brussels mission is also Fiji’s direct link to the organisation of the African, Caribbean and Pacific states which is based in the Belgian capital.”
Jale said the organisation was created in 1975 – formerly known as ACP – and its main objective was sustainable development and poverty reduction within its member states.
He said the OACP also targeted the greater integration of its member states into the world’s economy.
“All of the member states, except Cuba, are signatories to the Cotonou Agreement with the EU in 2000 and is the successor agreement to the LOME Convention which expired in February 2020.
“Fiji plays a lead role with other Pacific negotiators in the post-Cotonou discussions and the closure of our mission in Brussels will negatively impact these negotiations.
He wondered what would happen if the EU decided to close or relocate its delegation for the Pacific, currently based in Fiji.
Mr Jale also questioned the logic in keeping the embassies in Geneva, Beijing, Jakarta and Abu Dhabi open.
He said if the government did not reconsider its decision to close the missions in Washington DC and Brussels his SODELPA party would move to reopen them immediately if it came into power.