Bula vinaka, and a very good evening to you all.
I’m delighted to join all of you in the Fijian community in Beijing and from other parts of China and to convey to you the warm of greetings of the Fijian people back home. You may be far from us in terms of distance but remain close in our hearts. And I carry a special greeting for those of you furthering your studies in China.
The skills you are learning will make the effort all the more worthwhile when you return home and use those skills to help us build the new Fiji.
I look forward this evening to meeting as many of you as possible. To explain the many positive developments taking place back home and to answer some of your questions. I know many of you keep abreast of the news in Fiji but perhaps there are issues you would like to raise with me. I welcome the engagement because as I keep saying, we are determined as a Government to take every Fijian with us on our journey forward to create a modern nation state. But let me start by giving you all an overview of where I see us as a nation at the moment.
My fellow Fijians,
The successful conduct of our election last year has heralded in undoubtedly the most promising era in Fijian history. For the first time, we are a genuine democracy with equality and opportunity for all. We all have the protection of a Constitution that has been lauded around the world, not only for civil and political rights protection, but the social and economic rights it gives us.
We are all Fijians for the first time and the central ethos of my Government is to deliver and to serve. To finally give the Fijian people the services they have a right to expect – free education, better access to higher learning, better and affordable access to medical services, electricity and water, telecommunications, the Internet. All those things previous governments promised and didn’t deliver.
Our economy is thriving – growing at four per cent or more each year for the past three years. Indeed, we are currently enjoying the most sustained period of growth in our entire history since Independence. We are attracting a wave of local and foreign investment, including, of course, from China. And as the economy expands, more Fijians have jobs. More Fijians are paying tax. And the Government is getting the revenue it needs to finally start giving a leg-up to the people who really need it – low income Fijians and the disadvantaged.
We now not only have free schooling, we have free health care, free medicine and free water for those on low incomes. We are making a huge difference to their lives and are finally giving them hope for the future. And we have made huge inroads in creating a more equal society. In which it doesn’t matter who you are or where you live in Fiji, you have a better chance now to improve your life and the lives of your family than at any other time in Fijian history.
Our stability and prosperity is also enabling us to make an unprecedented investment in our infrastructure – including more than a billion dollars in the last two years to upgrade our roads.
We’ve reformed our ports to make them more efficient and improve our export performance. And we saved Fiji Airways and have made a massive investment in the airline – new state of the art planes, new routes, a profit sharing scheme for airline staff – all with the aim of building the finest boutique airline in the world.
We’re also investing in sporting facilities, capitalising on our sporting prowess that sees both our Rugby Sevens and our Under 23 national football side heading to the Olympics for the first time. What a fantastic achievement. No wonder Fiji’s success in so many fields has transformed the national mood.
My Fellow Fijians,
As a people, we are united. We are happy. We have put the lost years behind us, the years we spent arguing over who deserved more. Now, we’re working together to give everyone more. To move forward as a nation together. To leave no-one behind.
Our unity and renewed sense of purpose is opening up all sorts of possibilities for us in the world. To finally achieve our promise. To stand even taller and prouder as Fijians. Which is why we have also embarked on a national search for a new flag, one that speaks to what we are today as Fijians, not our colonial past. A great flag for a great country.
The Fijian people said they wanted more time to consider the options and we have listened. But I’m convinced that the mood for change is strong and gathering momentum. And that as time progresses, we will settle on a new design that speaks to every Fijian.
My Fellow Fijians,
My official visit to China this week and my meeting with the President and Prime Minister underlines the strength of our relationship. It isn’t just a friendship stretching back 40 years. China has been there for us when some of our other friends deserted us and we will never forget that support. When we needed it most of all.
We seek an even closer relationship with China and the Chinese people and all of you are an important part of the people-to-people ties that help bind the relationship together. Never forget that you are representing Fiji here in China; not just your immediate families, your employer, university or institution; but all Fijians. And that you are a personal embodiment of the qualities of our nation in the eyes of the Chinese people you meet.
Always strive to uphold our best traditions and standards of behaviour in your daily lives. And always strive to do your best. To make the most the opportunity you have been given to study or work here.
My Fellow Fijians,
Thank you for your wonderful welcome and I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible.
Vinaka vakalevu, thank you.