By ANA VURU
Fijian envoys have been told that there is a strategic reason for the visit to Fiji this week by two of the worlds most powerful men who between them control 36 per cent or 2.5 billion of the worlds population.
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama says the visits by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinas President Xi Jinping are symbolic of Fijis new status in the global community.
He was speaking to Fijian diplomats who started week-long consultations in Suva this week and said when he first heard of the impending State visits, he himself was surprised.
I can scarcely believe it myself – the opportunity for us not only to welcome these leaders to Fiji and host the leaders of our island neighbours – further strengthening our regional position – but to showcase Fiji, Mr Bainimarama said.
Why are they coming? Theres undoubtedly a strategic component to these visits India and China as emerging global powers wanting to also have more of a presence in the Pacific. But they are also coming because they regard Fiji as important. They acknowledge us as a regional leader a pre-eminent island nation that is also playing a increasing role on the wider global stage and having carried out substantive constitutional, legal and political reforms that have been applauded, commended and accepted internationally.
On the international front: Weve led the Group of 77 Plus China the biggest voting bloc at the United Nations; Weve played an important role in the UN system by chairing the General Assembly and heading the United Nations Development Program; Weve led our Pacific neighbours into the important Asia-Pacific Bloc bloc at the UN and co-ordinated our collective effort to get the international community to address the threat posed to Small Island Developing States by climate change; Weve led the international sugar industry and focussed attention on the needs of sugar cane growers around the world; And weve sent international peace-keepers into troubled parts of the world such as the Golan Heights and taken risks that others werent prepared to take.
The Prime Minister said all these developments were the result of Fijis decision to take its destiny in its own hands after major partners shunned the country in the aftermath of the events of 2006.
Make no mistake our resolve in the past 8 years, our strategic direction as a nation and our ability to think outside the box has gained Fiji much respect around the world. We have also delivered on our promise to introduce the first genuine democracy in Fijian history, and returned our nation to parliamentary rule under a much-acclaimed constitution, he said.
I want to thank every Fijian including those in this room, for the effort made to bring our beloved nation to this wonderful point in our history. It is the dedication and hard work that has put Fiji well and truly on the map. And it is through our collective effort including my Governments reforms over the past eight years that we now welcome two of the worlds greatest leaders to Fiji.
Mr Bainimarama said Mr Modi and Mr Xi were coming to Fiji because they recognised the countrys achievements.
They are coming to assist us our newly elected government. They are coming to encourage us in our overall foreign policy objective of being friends to all and enemies to none. I will be telling them that there is room in the Pacific for everyone of goodwill, for everyone willing to assist our island nations to reach their full potential. And I will be telling them just as I told the Fijian people before the election that if we can work together, even greater days lie ahead, he said.
Without pre-empting our talks, I can tell you that Prime Minister Modi recognises the great historical link between India and Fiji and wants to help us develop our nation in a range of ways which we will discuss. I can also tell you that President Xi and I will sign a number of Memorandums of Understanding covering further assistance and co-operation with China. In the case of both countries, our relationships will be stronger and deeper because of these visits.
They do not replace our existing relationships with others. Only a few weeks ago, I had highly successful meetings with our other development partners, in which the Minister for Finance and I outlined a number of areas in which we can work together to enhance Fijis capability and development. Indeed we will in the new year publish a development plan for Fiji for the next 5 years. This development plan will not only set our agenda and focus in a transparent manner for the next 5 years but will also assist our development partners to identify areas they can work with us on a sustained basis for the benefit of all Fijians.
I also only about a week ago had highly successful meetings with senior officials of both the World Bank which is assisting us with our reform of the Civil Service and with the Asian Development Bank, which is offering us financial and technical assistance with our developments and reforms in infrastructure and the public sector.
Fiji is on the move. Fiji is open for business. And in the coming year, I urge all our diplomats to place more emphasis on expanding trade, finance and investment links as part of your key objectives. This means that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the capital and the missions abroad need to work very closely, directly and collaboratively with the respective ministries such as Agriculture and Industry and Trade to name a couple. There is also the need to ensure that our Missions are always positioning Fiji in the diplomatic circle through highlighting our national and international objectives whether it is at ILO or through the climate change forums.
The Fijian economy is currently growing by a remarkable four per cent a year in only the third sustained burst in our post-independence history. But we urgently need to close the gap between our imports the goods and services we are bringing into Fiji and our exports, the goods and services we sell. This trade deficit must be reduced. On the other hand we must also continue to source better and competitively priced imports. We cannot simply depend on our traditional suppliers of goods and services.