UPDATED WITH FRESH INFORMATION (SEE POSTSCRIPT)
Reports are emerging of a serious diplomatic incident in Suva 10 days ago in which two Chinese diplomats from the Suva embassy assaulted a member of the Taiwanese delegation in Fiji. The incident allegedly took place on the evening of Thursday October 8 on the fringes of a reception at the Grand Pacific Hotel hosted by the Taipei Trade Office to celebrate Taiwan’s National Day.
There was no mention of the incident in the publicity about the event released by the Taiwanese, that included a speech by Taiwan’s representative in Fiji, Jessica Lee, emphasising cooperation in such fields as agriculture and medicine and praising Fiji’s climate leadership. Yet the event was evidently marred by an astonishing physical altercation between mainland diplomats and a Taiwanese official.
Grubsheet understands that two members of the Chinese Embassy gatecrashed the function and began taking photographs of the proceedings and of those attending the function, who according to the Taiwanese, included an unnamed former Fijian prime minister, former first lady and members of parliament. According to well placed sources, the Chinese diplomats were asked to leave by a male member of the Taiwanese delegation but refused to do so.
Later the two Chinese embassy officials allegedly assaulted the delegation member, “beating him up so badly ” – according to these accounts – that he required hospital treatment in Suva. The reports say police were called to the GPH but refused to take the matter further when the Chinese officials claimed diplomatic immunity.
The entire incident is said to have been “hushed up” but there is still a diplomatic standoff because Taiwan has lodged an official protest with the Fijian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. No other details are available for the moment. But it is clearly unacceptable for Chinese diplomats to assault other foreign representatives on Fijian soil. The two may be claiming diplomatic immunity but it does not give them the freedom to break Fijian law in such a flagrant and outrageous manner.
It is open to Fiji to declare the two Chinese diplomats persona non grata – the diplomatic term for an unacceptable or unwelcome individual – and require their removal from the country. But this is going to be a big test for the FijiFirst government’s resolve because of its close ties with Beijing and it is not a good sign that ten days have passed so far without public comment.
Only six days before the GPH incident, on October 2, the Chinese ambassador in Suva, Qian Bo, hosted Fiji’s “big three” – the President, Jioji Konrote, the Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama and the Speaker of the Parliament, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau – at a function at the Chinese residence to celebrate the founding of the People’s Republic.
Relations between the Fijian government and Beijing are extremely close. Last year, Fiji bowed to pressure from China to force Taiwan to rename its office in Suva from the “Trade Mission of the Republic of China” to the “Taipei Trade Office”. Taiwan protested against the decision to no avail.
The GPH incident is evidently part of a global pattern of aggressive behaviour by the mainland to assert its claim to Taiwan, which includes President Xi Jinping threatening to invade the island by the end of the decade. Fiji is not the only country in which Chinese diplomats have been behaving badly. Yet however small we are and whatever the level of Chinese aid, we cannot and must not tolerate unlawful behaviour on Fijian soil and the two offenders should be declared persona non grata as soon as possible and be withdrawn from Fiji.
In her speech at the October 8 function, Jessica Lee alluded to Chinese aggression not only towards Taiwan but towards pro-democracy supporters in Hong Kong. “2020 is a year of unimaginable challenges, but it is also a year showing Taiwan people’s fortitude and resilience in pursuing democracy, freedom and prosperity. We have completed the 15th presidential election and joined other members of the international community to uphold the rights and interests of the people of Hong Kong”, she said.
Whatever Fiji’s “One China policy”, any Fijian who supports democracy cannot condone the strong arm tactics by the Chinese dictatorship against the democratically-elected government of Taiwan or the people in Hong Kong, who were promised a high degree of autonomy for 50 years under the Joint Sino-British Declaration that preceded the British handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997 but have been betrayed.
The Chinese diplomats who attacked a Taiwanese representative in the heart of the Fijian capital have done so because they clearly think they can get away with it. But China must not be allowed to use its influence in Fiji to sool its thugs onto law-abiding citizens of any country on Fijian soil and if the FijiFirst government isn’t prepared to take a stand on this, the Fijian people should demand it. Because it sets a very dangerous precedent that is bound to be repeated if we acquiesce.
POSTSCRIPT: Fiji Village is quoting police spokesperson Ana Naisoro in Suva this afternoon as saying police are currently investigating a complaint by Chinese Embassy staff against an employee of the Taipei Trade Office.
It is alleged that the Taiwanese employee assaulted two Chinese Embassy staff at the Grand Pacific Hotel on October 8 during the Taiwanese National Day celebration. Naisoro said there is no report of the Taiwanese worker being assaulted.
Ah, so now we get it. Two Chinese embassy staff attended a Taiwanese event to which they were not invited and were assaulted by a Taiwanese national who had to be treated in hospital. Of course, that’s it!
Grubsheet’s original story that the reverse is true is based on accounts from multiple diplomatic sources in Suva. But of course, what would they know? As Alice famously said in Wonderland: “It gets curiouser and curiouser”. And this story has a long way to go yet.