It's been hard to get any concrete information about China's aid program to Fiji since the military rulers took over in December 2006. The interim Government cooperated on the first paper I wrote on this, but apparently regretted doing so. To try and find out a little more, I convinced an amiable and bemused taxi driver from Suva to take me on a tour of a newly completed Chinese aid project — a new Friendship Bridge (pictured).
The bridge appears to be a pretty useful contribution and the nearby residents must be grateful for the 30 minutes it cuts off a commute to the other side of the river.
But what was more remarkable about the Chinese aid presence in Fiji was its modesty. For all the hype, including promises from the Chinese of a US$150 million soft loan, things have been pretty quiet. There is a large hydro-electric project going ahead, but so far the promised squatter resettlement project has failed to commence — apparently over a failure to reach agreement on quality issues and use of local labour (which the Chinese are resisting).
After the 2006 coup China appeared to come in quite aggressively in Fiji. There was the big US$150 million pledge, but it also gave the regime US$5 million in cash to tie it over as other donors raced for the exits. It seemed like the start of a great and wonderful partnership. The interim Prime Minister and coup leader, Frank Bainimarama, went so far as to snatch responsibility for Chinese aid for himself — creating the Development Cooperation and Facilitation Division within his own department to fast-track Chinese assistance.
The Chinese give an upbeat assessment of their engagement in Fiji, but in reality it is modest and the delays in handing over the US$150 million soft loan suggest it is having some second thoughts about being the regime's saviour (alternatively, it isn't quite as responsive to donor requests as it claims).
Back to my taxi driver. We had a slight language barrier and given my apparent interest in infrastructure he very generously insisted I had to also visit the Suva water works. Despite my best efforts I ended up on an exhaustive tour of the plant — including a free tasting — and I thought I'd share some photos with readers (as far as I am aware it has nothing to do with the Chinese):