Australia is still recovering from last month’s political crisis, where the Liberal party ousted Malcolm Turnbull as its leader – which meant he also lost his job as Prime Minister. It turns out, that one of his last acts in office, was to outmaneuver China on a military base in Fiji.
Canberra and Beijing both made offers to develop Fiji’s Blackrock Camp. Captain Eroni Duaibe of the Fiji Military Forces told the newspaper The Australian, that China had been interested for some time. But, he said, “Australia played their cards right.”
The newspaper reported that China had offered to build an air base at Blackrock. Captain Duaibe denied that, but said that China proposed to do some parts of the development, while leaving others to Fiji. By contrast, he described Australia’s offer as “holistic.” Canberra will provide, not just infrastructure, but forces to train Fijian troops and help develop Black Rock into a regional hub for police and military training, perhaps as part of Australia’s new Pacific Security College. It’s not yet clear how much money is involved in the project, but the total was described to the Australian as “significant.”
Australia and Fiji have been at odds since 2006, when the current prime minister, Frank Bainimara, seized power in a military coup. Bainimara announced a policy he called “Look North” – which reoriented Fiji toward China and Russia. As recently as 2015, China’s ambassador to Fiji publicly discussed plans to build a naval base there.
It’s not clear whether this new agreement with Australia represents a fundamental change for Fiji, but it does represent another in a series of steps that Australia’s taken to limit China’s military influence in the region.