Fiji courts China to Indian community’s dismay (Comment)

August 15th, 2010 - 10:01 am ICT by IANS  

By Mohan Balaji
Shunned by others for failing to establish democratic rule, Fiji is actively courting China, much to the dismay of its large Indian community.

Fiji’s and China’s mutual attractions are understandable. Fiji was expelled from the Commonwealth and the Pacific Islands Forum after the military ousted the elected government.

Isolated regionally and beyond, it has found an apt ally in China to ward off diplomatic pressure, including from the UN Security Council. Beijing can veto any resolution against Fiji if pressed by the US and Britain.

The Indian community, which accounts for 44 percent of Fiji’s population of over 830,000 and has a natural inclination for democracy, is in a fix.

When Fiji observes the 40th anniversary of its independence Oct 10, the high point will be the attendance of a delegation from the Chinese government.

In February 2009, Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping paid a state visit to Fiji. Fiji has not hosted any high-level delegation from India in the recent past.

The last state visit by an Indian prime minister to Fiji was way back in 1982 — by Indira Gandhi.

Interestingly, the Indian High Commission in Fiji doesn’t have a website. Many from the Indian community feel that the Indian government needs to do more to boost the community’s confidence.

Fiji can be a test ground for India’s foreign policy with respect to the Diaspora.

With India’s stock rising internationally, the Indian community hopes New Delhi would play a more pro-active and assertive role vis-a-vis Fiji.

India could either try to isolate the military regime internationally or engage with the military dictator and thus influence the democratic transition in Fiji.

India should also open embassies or high commissions in the South Pacific region adjoining Fiji. The region in general and Fiji in particular should be an extension of India’s “Look East” Policy. It’s the “Look East” policy that helped India counter China’s influence in Southeast Asia.

India can project its democratic ideals, which appeals to both the native Fijians and Indo-Fijians. India can use cultural diplomacy through the Indian Cultural Centre, which was established in capital Suva in 1971 and has since spread to Lautoka city in western Fiji.

Many native Fijians are fascinated by India. India could use its rich culture as an attraction, and so could engage with the Fiji administration to pursue the path of democracy.

India should also promote tourism to Fiji. Tourism is a key sustaining factor in Fijian economy.

The Central Hindi Institute in Agra should take more students from Fiji.

Each year, 25 students from Fiji receive scholarships from India to take up undergraduate and postgraduate studies. Eighteen civil servants from Fiji travel to India to further their studies in various universities and institutes under Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC).

Most feel that the scholarships need to be increased to attract talented Fiji students. Also, there needs to be a Track II dialogue with the Indian community.

Fiji’s present ruler and Prime Minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, took power in a military sponsored coup in December 2006. The regime has vowed to hold elections in September 2014 under a constitution.

The judiciary in Fiji is pushing hard on ousted Fiji prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry on charges of money laundering and tax evasion, leading to more insecurity among the Indian community.

Chaudhry is still a charismatic Indian leader who became Fiji’s first ethnic prime minister in 1999. He was ousted a year later in a coup led by dictator George Speight.

Because of repeated military coups and counter-coups from 1987 to 2006, the Indian population has fallen from 52 percent in 1986 to 44 percent in 2007. Many Indians have left behind property and shifted to Australia and New Zealand.

(15-08-2010- Balaji Chandramohan is editor of World Security Network for Asia. He

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