SYDNEY (Reuters) – Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said on Saturday he had a “wonderful meeting” with Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong, who travelled to Fiji days after being sworn in to show the new government’s attention to the Pacific Islands.
“Fiji is not anyone’s backyard – we are a part of a Pacific family,” Bainimarama wrote on Twitter https://twitter.com/FijiPM/status/1530265872354332673?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Etweet, posting a picture of himself and Penny Wong shaking hands.
He appeared to be taking a veiled swipe at Scott Morrison, the conservative prime minister ousted in an election last weekend, who once referred to the Pacific as Australia’s “backyard”.
“Our greatest concern isn’t geopolitics – it’s climate change,” Bainimarama wrote. “In that spirit, I had a wonderful meeting with Foreign Minister @SenatorWong to strengthen our Vuvale Partnership with Australia”, he said, using the Fijian word for “friendship”.
After defeating Morrison’s coalition in an election that had climate change as a major theme, Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese was sworn in on Monday as Australia’s 31st prime minister, and Wong as foreign minister.
Wong and her Chinese counterpart launched competing Pacific visits on Thursday. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi expressed hope that Beijing’s ties with the Solomon Islands could be a regional model, while Wong said Canberra will be a partner that does not come with strings attached.
China is seeking a sweeping 10-nation deal on security and trade that has unsettled the United States and its Pacific allies, including Australia. Wang is expected to push for the deal in a meeting he will host on Monday in Fiji.
Wong, on her visit to Fiji, warned that there were regional consequences to a security pact between Solomon Islands and China, after the Chinese minister said interference in the deal would fail.
(Reporting by Samuel McKeith in Sydney; Editing by William Mallard)