Bula Vinaka and Ni Hao.
I’m delighted to join you again as your Chief Guest, along with my family, to celebrate the Chinese New Year. It is, of course, the most important festival on the Chinese calendar. And this year, 2015, is the Year of the Goat.
It’s good to see a New Year named after an animal that every Fijian is familiar with and that the Chinese zodiac is in line with a symbol to which we can all relate.
The New Year for your community – the Spring Festival – is a joyous time for you all, as it is for the more than one billion Chinese in China and the vast Chinese diaspora throughout the world.
I remember last year’s celebrations with great fondness and this year marks an even more important occasion. Because it is the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Fiji and the People’s Republic of China.
Since then, our relationship has developed into a great friendship between our two countries. And Fiji will never forget the support that China has been willing to give us – especially after 2006 when some of our traditional friends turned their backs on us.
China stayed by our side because it recognised that what we were doing as a nation was for the long-term benefit of the Fijian people. And it has done a huge amount to contribute to the development and improvement of our infrastructure, including roads, public housing, hydroelectric projects, solar projects and hospitals.
So I again ask you – Mr. Charge d’ Affaires – to pass on our sincere greetings, thanks and good wishes to the Chinese Government and the Chinese people and our hope for their continuing prosperity in the Year of the Goat.
Of course, our relationship reached a new height last year when Fiji had the honour and privilege to host the Chinese President, Xi Jinping. The President’s historic and successful State visit was the first by a Chinese Head of State since we established diplomatic ties in 1975.
We found ourselves agreeing, face-to-face, on a great many issues and we opened up new avenues of cooperation in a number of different areas. The visit signified the depth of the relationship between China and Fiji and has set the groundwork for a new era of partnership, which Fijians deeply appreciate.
We are expanding our economic ties and strengthening our cultural and educational exchanges. I’m told that the annual volume of trade between China and Fiji has reached 695 million Fijian dollars, and is growing on current figures by 12 per cent a year.
As part of that, we are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of Chinese visitors to Fiji. Last year, 28,000 came to our shores, an increase of 5,000 over 2013. But the Chinese market has grown from just 4,000 visitors in 2009. So in the past six years, we have seen a seven-fold increase in Chinese visitor arrivals and we are determined for that number to grow.
For the first time, hundreds of new Chinese visitors are arriving in Fiji on Fiji Airways charter flights from Shanghai. So this expansion is already underway and we look forward to welcoming many thousands more of your countrymen in the months and years ahead.
In other areas, the friendship has also reached new heights. Our cultural exchanges are expanding and several Chinese artistic groups have visited Fiji in recent times, showcasing aspects of your great civilization to Fijian audiences.
We especially valued and appreciated the visit to Fiji last year of the People’s Liberation Army Hospital Ship, the Peace Ark, which berthed in Suva for the first time and provided many Fijians with free medical care. Nothing could be more designed to endear China to the Fijian people than to receive such practical health care. So I again want to use this opportunity to thank China for this generous gesture. And we look forward to the Peace Ark visiting Fiji again. Maybe to another part of the country.
So, ladies and gentlemen, after 40 years, we have much to celebrate about our relationship. And today we celebrate together, not only with our new Chinese friends, but those whose families have been in Fiji for up to 160 years.
The Chinese were one of the earliest groups of foreign settlers to come to Fiji and the Chinese community has played an important role in our nation’s development. We pay tribute to that contribution today and thank the community for their loyalty to our nation, their dedication and their hard work.
It has been a difficult time for the local community recently with the tragic murder in Suva of Holland Seeto, a popular member of one of Fiji’s well known families.
To the Seeto family – including you Jenny, the President of the Chinese Association – I again extend condolences on behalf of every Fijian for your tragic loss and again express our thanks for your family’s service to Fiji.
Ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank the organisers of today’s event and especially the co-sponsor, the Chinese Embassy in Suva. It is a time to reflect on the special relationship we share. It is a time to celebrate with old friends and new. It is a time to celebrate the Year of the Goat.
May the year to come be auspicious. May it be one of harmony and prosperity. All Fijians join me in wishing you all a very Happy New Year.
Vinaka Vakalevu and Xie Xie Ni.