SPEECH: HON PM BAINIMARAMA SPEECH AT THE CHINA-FIJI 40TH ANNIVERSARY DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS SYMPOSIUM OPENING

Your Excellency, the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China.
Honourable Ministers and Members of Parliament,
Your Excellencies, members of the Diplomatic Corps.
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Bula vinaka, Ni Hao and a very Good Afternoon to you all.
Forty years ago – in the Year of the Rabbit, 1975 – Fiji and China forged a formal diplomatic relationship that remains strong to this day, in the Year of the Goat, 2015.

In 1975, Chairman Mao Zedong was still the Great Helmsman. And China was continuing the process of opening itself to the world, including hosting a second visit by an American President, Gerald Ford.

Here in Fiji, we were in the fifth year of our independence with Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara as our Prime Minister, when we reached out to China ourselves, becoming the first Pacific Island nation to establish diplomatic relations with Beijing.

Today, we celebrate the fact that not only were our relations friendly four decades ago, but they are even closer today. China has been a steadfast ally, standing by us when we chose to alter our national compass and our traditional allies turned their backs on us. It was there to support us as we Looked North and expanded our links with the world beyond our immediate neighbourhood. It has always supported the role Fiji plays in United Nations Peacekeeping. And it has supported our desire to pursue a more independent foreign policy and work with our island neighbours to give the Pacific a stronger voice.

China’s assistance in establishing the Pacific Islands Development Forum is especially appreciated. Because it understands our desire for a more inclusive framework that brings Pacific Islanders together to determine their own futures, free from outside interference.

Fiji has also supported China in a number of important ways. And especially its own desire to be able to determine its internal affairs free from outside interference. Right from the start, Fiji recognised the policy of One China, acknowledging the People’s Republic as the only legitimate authority representing the whole of China and acknowledging Taiwan as an integral part of China.

But above all, we respect our mutual right to choose what is best for ourselves. Mutual respect for our national sovereignty. Mutual respect for our respective development paths. Mutual respect for our respective cultures and ways of life. And a commitment on both sides to expand our relationship for the mutual benefit of the Fijian and Chinese peoples.

Fiji especially values China’s respect for the central tenet of our foreign policy, which is to be enemies to none and friends to all. We have no desire as a Pacific Small Island Developing State to be drawn into the conflicts of others. We seek good relations with every nation and people of goodwill throughout the world. And we know that China understands that desire and supports our right to pursue a foreign policy that is staunchly independent.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, China not only has a great history but a great present and a great future – all based on the celebrated energy and drive of the Chinese people. It has a crucial role to play in world affairs. And Fiji looks to China for leadership in the global community on the great issues of our time.

These include the challenge of improving opportunities for people living in less developed parts of the world. Giving them the same opportunity to lead worthwhile and fulfilling lives as the citizens of developed countries. Closing the divide between North and South – the gap between affluent and poor. And in our own part of the world, supporting Fijians and other Pacific Islanders to strike the correct balance between our development needs and the absolute imperative to protect our precious natural resources on land and at sea.

We look to China to be one of the leaders with us as we near the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris. China understands that while we have negligible contributions as Pacific islanders to the carbon emissions that are warming the planet, we are enduring most of the negative impact through rising seas and extreme weather events. And we ask China to side with us in this struggle as we try to persuade the industrialised nations to embrace drastic cuts in carbon emissions.

As you all know, we hold grave fears here in the Pacific of the consequences for our people if our calls go unheeded – the very survival of some nations and the loss of valuable coastal land in others. No nation can afford to be part of what I have called the coalition of the selfish. No nation can presume to put its economic interests before the wider interests of global citizens the world over.

So I am asking China and the other industrial nations not only to consider the disastrous consequences of failing to do what is necessary in Paris to arrest carbon emissions. I am also asking these nations to consider the positive consequences of embracing change themselves. To reconfigure their economies for a more sustainable energy future. To embrace the use of sustainable energy sources such as hydroelectric and solar power instead of fossil fuels and especially coal. For their own sakes, as much as for ours.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, if the industrial nations act now – take the hard decisions now – we have a fighting chance to save the Pacific and to save the planet. But if they don’t, they are not only sacrificing our interests in Paris but delaying the inevitable for themselves. Because it is abundantly clear that the whole world cannot continue on its present course. We must choose a more sustainable energy future now or wind up having no real future at all.

So I ask you, Your Excellency, to convey these concerns to your government and ask the diplomats of other countries in this room to do the same. We must not let the opportunity that Paris presents escape us. We must not fail our people or our planet.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to warmly thank China for its friendship over the years and the many instances of kindness and consideration it has shown to Fiji. The presence here a year ago of your President, Xi Jinping, was a singular honour – the first Chinese president to visit the Pacific. And I have also deeply appreciated the many considerations shown to me as Fijian Prime Minister during my successive visits to China.

Our people-to-people contact has also grown together with our government-to-government relationship. These include the many Fijians who have studied in China over the years and civil servants who have attended specific courses. And of course, the many Chinese who are now holidaying here in Fiji has increased over the past six years and we are determined for that to grow.

So our relationship is strong and growing stronger every year. And I have the great pleasure, Your Excellency, on behalf of the Fijian Government and the Fijian people, to extend to you, your President, your Government and the Chinese people our very best wishes on this most auspicious of occasions. Happy 40th anniversary!

Vinaka vakalevu, Xie xie ni, thank you.