This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Fiji has withdrawn from an international statement that called on China to end its persecution of Uyghur and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, underlining the superpower’s leverage over Pacific island countries.
A total of 51 nations had backed the statement that was issued in mid-October at a U.N. committee on human rights violations in the region in China’s northwest. It cited an assessment by the office of the U.N. human rights commissioner that relied extensively on China’s own records and found evidence of large-scale arbitrary detention and other abuses such as torture, forced abortions, family separations and forced labor.
“Fiji attaches great value to its bilateral relations with the People’s Republic of China and based on its policy of non-interference has withdrawn Fiji’s vote,” the Fijian government said in a statement Monday.
Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka, elected in December after 16 years of rule by strongman leader Frank Bainimarama and his Fiji First party, is attempting to balance reassertion of longstanding security relationships with countries such as Australia and the United States with his country’s economic ties to China.
Rabuka said in June he had put a police cooperation agreement with China under review because he favored relations with democracies. However, Fiji’s decision to elevate the status of Taiwan’s office in the country was reversed the same month under pressure from Beijing, according to Taiwan’s foreign ministry.
Fiji’s statement said it was reaffirming its “unwavering commitment” to relations with other countries based on mutual respect for sovereignty and “non-interference” in domestic affairs – echoing Beijing’s foreign policy mantras, particularly in response to criticism of its human rights record.
Fiji’s withdrawal from the Xinjiang statement is a “crystal-clear example of how China uses its economic leverage over Pacific countries for political gain,” said Mihai Sora, a Pacific analyst at the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank.
“One of the strings attached to China’s economic interest in the region is an expectation that Pacific countries support Chinese positions on a range of issues in the U.N., particularly human rights,” he said.
The retraction puts Fiji back in line with its past practice of not taking stances that China sees as interference in its domestic affairs, Sora said.
China has become a substantial source of trade, infrastructure and aid for developing Pacific island countries as part of its global effort to isolate Taiwan diplomatically and gain supporters in international institutions.
Fiji’s relations with China particularly burgeoned after countries such as Australia and New Zealand sought to punish its government for Bainimarama’s 2006 coup – the Pacific island country’s fourth since the late 1980s.
Some Pacific island countries also have faced criticism for last week siding with the U.S. in voting against a U.N. General Assembly resolution for a humanitarian truce in Gaza. The territory is being bombed by Israel in the wake of a wave of deadly surprise attacks carried out by Hamas on Oct. 7.
Fiji, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Tonga and Papua New Guinea sided with the U.S., Israel and a handful of other countries in opposing the resolution. Several Pacific Island countries abstained from the vote.