Fijian Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka used a major speech in Canberra this afternoon to call for a “zone of peace” in the Pacific, urging the United States and China to withdraw from their struggle for influence which is intensifying in the region.
- Mr Rabuka said the “Peace Zone” would involve Pacific island nations agreeing to refrain from any action that could jeopardize regional stability.
- Mr. Rabuka said the concept could be a powerful example for a world beset by conflicts from the Middle East to Ukraine.
- Mr Rabuka has moved Fiji’s foreign policy away from China and much closer to its traditional partners like Australia.
Mr Rabuka – once nicknamed “Rambo” – illegally seized power in a military coup in 1987, but has since publicly apologized for his actions and won a close election ten months ago to take over the highest office in Fiji.
The prime minister told a reception at the Lowy Institute at Old Parliament that, given his previous “notoriety” as coup leader, he could understand why some would question his commitment to Peace.
“It’s because I repented, I was reborn. My past cannot be erased, but I can make up for what I did to a certain extent,” he said.
“Many years ago I became a staunch Democrat…and now this Democratic politician will do everything he can to be an apostle of peace.”
“What if our vast region of the globe, in this troubled and perilous time, were to be officially declared an Ocean of Peace?”
Mr. Rabuka said the concept of a “Zone” or “Ocean of Peace” was still nascent but would involve major powers and Pacific island nations agreeing to “(refrain) from any action likely to jeopardize peace.” ‘regional order and stability’ as well as ‘maintain respect for everyone’. sovereignty and territorial integrity of others.
He also suggested that this could involve Pacific nations with armed forces doing more to help other countries in the region deal with their internal security problems, floating the idea of Fijian peacekeepers helping Papua New Guinea to manage the escalation of tribal conflicts.
Mr. Rabuka suggested that if Pacific nations could agree on a new concept, it could moderate the behavior of major powers and serve as a powerful example to a world ravaged by conflicts from the Middle East to the Ukraine.
“For us in the Blue Pacific, history may be calling us. Our manifest destiny may be to carry banners for peace and speak for harmony in our times and forever,” he said. -he declares.
Closer ties with Australia
Fiji’s prime minister previously raised the idea in a speech to the United Nations in August and pledged to seek support from other leaders at the Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ meeting in the Cook Islands early in the year. next month.
Mr Rabuka has moved closer to traditional partners like Australia and New Zealand since taking office earlier this year, announcing several months ago that he would end a controversial policing agreement with China.
However, the exact status of the deal remains unclear, with the Interior Minister saying in June that the agreement was currently only under “review”.
The prime minister did not say when that review would end, but insisted the deal was no longer in force.
“That has been suspended. Particularly because of the differences between our policing and investigation systems and our justice system,” he told the ABC.
“I would prefer Fiji to return to the traditional, comfortable relationships of the past.”
He also supported Australia’s move to co-host a UN Conference of the Parties climate change summit with Pacific countries in 2026.
While Pacific leaders have expressed support in principle for the bid, some advocates and politicians in the region say Australia must first take much more ambitious steps to reduce its emissions before getting the nod. and Pacific cooperation.
But Mr Rabuka struck a more conciliatory tone, saying several major emitters had hosted COP summits in the past.
“Which of the COP hosts have done enough? None. What we need to do is discuss with them while organizing it,” he said.
“I encourage the Oceania region and Pacific Islands Forum leaders to support Australia. This is the only time we can bring the world to us… that will resonate with the rest of the world.”
Mr Rabuka also said his government was investigating complaints by some Fiji employers that the PALM program – which brings temporary workers from the Pacific to Australia – had fueled a skills shortage.
He said PALM was only a “temporary solution” for Fiji and he wanted to radically expand vocational training in his country with help from Australia and New Zealand.