By Kalinga Seneviratne in Suva
While Japan’s discharge of nuclear waste waters into the Pacific from its Fukushima nuclear plant has been drawing flak across the Pacific, a high-powered delegation of Chinese ocean and marine scientists and Asia-Pacific scholars from Shandong Province visited Fiji to promote South-South cooperation to mitigate climate change — the Pacific island nations’ biggest security threat.
Facilitated by the Chinese Embassy in Suva, Shandong Province and Fiji signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to exchange scholars and experts from the provincial institution to assist the Pacific Island nation in the agriculture sector.
At the signing event, Agriculture Minister Vatimi Rayalu said Fiji and China had a successful history of cooperating in agriculture.
He told the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation that this initiative was critical to agricultural production to promote heightened collaboration among key stakeholders and help Fiji connect to the vast Chinese market.
Shandong Province has a 3000 km coastline with a population of 100 million. It is China’s third largest provincial economy, with a GDP of CNY 8.3 trillion (US$1.3 trillion) in 2021—equivalent to Mexico’s GDP.
The province has also played a major role in Chinese civilisation and is a cultural center for Confucianism, Taoism and Chinese Buddhism.
On August 30, during a day-long conference at the University of the South Pacific under the theme of sustainable development of small island states, scholars from Shandong Province and the Pacific exchanged ideas on cooperation in the sphere of the ocean and marine sciences, and education, development and cultural areas.
Chinese assistance welcomed
In a keynote address to the conference, Fiji’s Education Minister Aseri Radrodro welcomed China’s assistance to foster a scholars exchange programme and share best practices for improved teaching and learning processes.
He said: “We are restrategising our diplomatic relations via education platforms disturbed by the pandemic.”
Emphasising that respect is an essential ingredient of Pacific cultures, he welcomed Chinese interest in Pacific cultures.
Also, he invited China to assist Fiji and the region in areas such as marine sciences, counselling, medical services, IT, human resource management, and education policies and management.
“Overall, sustainable development for Small Island States requires a realistic approach that integrates social, economic, and environmental considerations and collaborations among governments, civil society, international organisations, and the private sector that is essential for achieving sustainable development goals,” he told delegates.
Radrodro invited more Chinese scholars to visit the Pacific to increase cultural understanding between the regions and suggested developing a school exchange programme between Fiji and China for young people to understand each other.
The Chinese ambassador to Fiji, Zhou Jian, pointed out that China and the Pacific Island Countries (PICs), were connected by the Pacific Ocean and in a spirit of South-South cooperation, China already had more than 20 development cooperation projects in the region (he listed them) and 10 sister city arrangements across the region.
Building a human community
Pointing out that his province’s institutions have some of the prominent scholars in the world on climatic change action and marine technology, the Vice-Chairman of Shandong Provincial Committee, Wang Shujian, said he hoped that these institutions would help to build a human community with a shared future in the Pacific.
Many Chinese speakers reflected in their presentations that their cooperative ventures would be in line with the Chinese government’s current international collaboration push known as the “Global Development Initiative”.
This initiative has eight priority areas: poverty alleviation, food security, pandemic response and vaccines, financing for development, climate change and green development, industrialisation, digital economy, and connectivity in the digital era.
Jope Koroisavou of the Ministry of iTaukei (indigenous) affairs explained that the “Blue Pacific” leaders in the region talk about is a way of life that “bridges our past with our future,” and it was important to re-establish the balance between taking and giving to nature.
He listed three takeaways in this respect: cultural resilience and preservation, eco-system stewardship and conservation, and community component and inclusive decision-making.
Professor Yang Jingpeng from the Centre for South Pacific Studies at Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications acknowledged that they needed to learn from indigenous knowledge, where indigenous people were closely connected to the environment.
Bio-diversity, climate action, South-South cooperation
“They play an important role in protecting biodiversity,” he noted. “Their knowledge of nature will be greatly beneficial to address climatic change”.
He expressed the wish that under South-South cooperation, their centre would be able to work with this knowledge and scientific methodologies to mitigate climatic change.
Mesake Koroi of the FBC noted that Pacific Islanders needed to get over the idea that because indigenous villagers practice subsistence farming, they were poor when, in fact, they were rich in traditional knowledge, which was important to address the development and environmental challenges of today.
“Using this traditional knowledge, people don’t go out fishing when the winds are blowing in the wrong direction or the moon is not in the correct place”, he noted.
“In my village, 10,000 trees will be planted this year to confront climatic change.”
On an angry note, he referred to Japan’s dumping of nuclear-contaminated water to the Pacific Ocean using a purely “scientific” argument, which he described as “inexcusable vulgar, crude and irresponsible”.
He asked if science said was so safe, why did they not use it for irrigation in Japan?
Nuclear tests suffering
Koroi lamented that historically, major powers had used the Pacific for nuclear testing without respect for the islanders’ welfare — who had to suffer from nuclear fallouts.
“The British, French, and Americans are all guilty of these atrocities, and now the Japanese”, noted Koroi.
Since China was coming to the Pacific without this baggage, he hoped this would transform into a desire to work with the people of the Pacific for their welfare.
Professor He Baogang, of Deaking University in Australia, noted that though the Chinese mindset acknowledged that dealing with climate change was a human right (health right) issue, it still needed to be central to their approach to the problem.
“This should be laid down as important, ” he argued, and suggested that this could be demonstrated by working on areas such as putting green shipping corridors into action.
“China and Pacific Island countries need to look at an agreement to decarbonise the shipping industry,” he argued. “This conference needs to address how to proceed (in that direction)”.
Pointing out that there was a long history — going back to more than 8000 years — of Chinese ancestry among some Pacific people, pointing out that some Māori traditional tattoos were similar to the Chinese tattoos, Professor Chen Xiaochen, executive deputy director, Centre for Asia-Pacific Studies, East China Normal University, noted “now we are looking for common ground for Pacific development needs”.
Knowing each other better
In an informal conversation with IDN, one of the professors from China said that the time had come for the people of China and the Pacific to come to know each other better.
“Chinese students hardly know about Pacific cultures and the people,” he told IDN, adding, “I suppose the Pacific people don’t know much of our cultures as well.”
He believes closer collaboration with universities in Shandong Provincial would be ideal “because it is a centre of Chinese civilisation”.
“Now the Pacific is looking north,” noted Professor Xiaochen, adding, “my flight from Hong Kong was full of Chinese tourists coming South to Fiji”.
Kalinga Seneviratne is a visiting consultant with the University of the South Pacific journalism programme. IDN-InDepthNews is the flagship news service of the nonprofit Inter Press Syndicate. Republished in collaboration with Asia Pacific Report.
Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz