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China support for Fiji questioned

Fiji's military commander Frank Bainimarama (December 2006)
Mr Bainimarama has been scrambling to shore up Fiji's ailing finances

Australia has urged China and the rest of the international community to back efforts to return Fiji to democracy.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said he had asked countries not to use their contacts with Fiji to undermine efforts to pressure Fiji to hold elections.

China has extended its influence into the Pacific, including Fiji, with aid and money for infrastructure projects.

Commodore Frank Bainimarama took power in Fiji in a coup in 2006 and has said elections will not be held until 2014.

He and his allies have suspended the constitution, detained opponents, delayed elections, suppressed freedom of speech and required lawyers to get new licences to practise from his administration.

The Pacific Islands Forum, currently chaired by Australia, has suspended Fiji, which also faces possible expulsion from the Commonwealth.

Australia and New Zealand have also criticised the United Nations for continuing to use Fijian soldiers in UN peace-keeping operations while Fiji remains under military rule.

Pressure

Fiji figured prominently in talks in New Zealand's capital, Wellington, on Thursday between New Zealand's Foreign Minister Murray McCully and Mr Smith.

"We've been urging all members of the international community that, if they are having contact with Fiji, that they should certainly make the point that the international community wants to see Fiji return to democracy," Mr Smith said.

Fiji ruler Frank Bainimarama meeting Chinese premier Wen Jiabao, Beijing, Aug 08
China nurtures ties with Pacific nations who follow the 'One-China' policy

Mr Smith said that Australia and New Zealand will continue to call for a speedy return to democracy in Fiji, but there are no plans to place trade sanctions on the country.

Mr Bainimarama has told local media that he is aware that New Zealand and Australia have asked China to reconsider its aid and financial support for Fiji.

Australian parliamentary secretary for Pacific Islands affairs, Duncan Kerr, has denied reports that he said Chinese aid to Fiji is hindering sanctions imposed by Canberra and Wellington.

Pacific links

Last month a new bridge was opened in Fiji, funded and built by China.

Fiji's Vice-President Ratu Epeli Nailatiku said the Navuso Bridge symbolised the growing relationship between China and Fiji.

"Fiji regards the relationship with the government and the people of the People's Republic of China as one of its most important," the vice-president was reported as saying.

A parliamentary delegation from several Pacific nations, including Fiji, is currently visiting Beijing.

Premier Wen Jiabao told the group that China and Pacific island countries should expand economic and trade co-operation.

He said China would continue offering economic and technological assistance to these nations.



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