China is indicating it is not prepared to place its crucial relationship with Australia at risk by filling Fiji's international relations vacuum.
Fiji was due to be the first country suspended from the 16-nation Pacific Islands Forum from this morning because of its failure to schedule elections by May 1 for later this year. The military-installed Government says it will not hold elections until September 2014.
The country's military chief and Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, told The Australian this week: "We have a wonderful relationship with China, and we're trying to build on that. They're very sympathetic and understand what's happening here, that we need to do things in our own way."
However, indications are emerging that Beijing, while maintaining a strong relationship with Fiji as an element of the global projection of its "soft power", does not wish to be perceived as Suva's new international protector, or to write blank cheques to underpin the country's collapsing revenues.
Revelations of Beijing's stance came as Kevin Rudd yesterday rebuffed overtures from Commodore Bainimarama for a summit including his New Zealand counterpart, John Key, to try to resolve the impasse over his refusal to hold elections until 2014.
"The people of Fiji deserve better," the Prime Minister said, attacking the country's interim administration. "This military Government has taken a fundamental assault on the institutions of democracy, including the freedom of the press.
"I don't regard that as a basis for business as usual."
Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said yesterday that given Fiji had shown no intention of a return to democracy, the threat to suspend it from the Pacific Islands Forum would be instigated.
"The effect of the resolution passed unanimously ... is effective tomorrow, the first day after May 1," Mr Smith said.
The latest briefing paper from the Foreign Ministry in Beijing on China's relations with Pacific island countries says: "The Chinese Government regards aid as mutual, and not as a kind of unilateral alms. The scale of China's development program in the region is smaller than other donors, and mostly in the form of projects."
The paper stresses support for the Pacific Islands Forum. "As a dialogue partner to the PIF, China attaches great importance to exchanges and co-operation with the Pacific island countries within the forum framework," it says.
"China has maintained good co-ordination with the USA, the European Union, Australia, New Zealand and other development partners in the region in safeguarding regional stability.
"We are willing to work jointly with all relevant parties to promote stability, development and prosperity in the region - The Australian