18 Oct 2023

Self-proclaimed 'apostle of peace' Fiji PM Rabuka wants conflict free Pacific Ocean

4:39 pm on 18 October 2023
Sitiveni Rabuka, left, at the Lowy Institute event in Canberra.

Sitiveni Rabuka, left, at the Lowy Institute event in Canberra. Photo: Lowy Institute Media

Fiji's Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka has called for the Pacific Ocean to be declared an "Ocean of Peace".

"For us in the Blue Pacific, history may be calling," Rabuka told diplomats, Fijian community members, academics and policymakers at a function organised by the Australian think-tank, Lowy Institute on Tuesday.

"It might be our manifest destiny to carry banners for peace and speak out for harmony in our time, and forever."

Rabuka said he wants the proposal on a 'Pacific Peace Zone' to be discussed at the 52nd Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting next month.

Lowy Institute Pacific Islands Program director Dr Meg Keen said a "Pacific conflict-free zone" could manifest as a declaration of sorts.

"It would be about partnerships and alliances and processes, I don't think he is envisioning laws, legal obligations or a treaty like approach," Dr Keen said.

To turn his vision into a reality, Rabuka said "more extensive" discussion around the Pacific being an ocean of peace is needed.

Forum members have "sovereign rights" to over 32 million square kilometres of the Blue Pacific, Rabuka said.

"That is only slightly smaller than the combined land areas of Russia, China and the United States."

In his speech, he also touched on the Russia-Ukraine war, the China-Taiwan conflict, the US-China struggle for influence, and the Israel-Palestine war.

"The planet might be on the edge of something terrible," he said.

Rabuka recounted the perilous journey home for Fijians stranded in the war zone, describing the repatriation as "historic, daring and well planned".

Among those rescued on the Fiji Airways flight were pilgrims from New Zealand, Samoa, Canada, America, the Philippines and Australia.

"Fiji had fulfilled its role as a world citizen," he said.

Sitiveni Rabuka, left, at the Lowy Institute event in Canberra.

Sitiveni Rabuka, left, at the Lowy Institute event in Canberra. Photo: Lowy Institute Media

Geopolitical rivalry

Rabuka also emphasised Fiji will not take sides between the US and China.

"We are friendly with China and the US and do not want to be caught in the struggle between the superpowers."

Responding to a question from the audience, the prime minister said he dreams of a day where ships from China and Russia, Saudi and the US can refuel side by side in Fiji.

"As long as they don't come and fight their wars in my Pacific ocean of peace."

Dr Keen said Rabuka made it very clear that he thought there was scope particularly in the Pacific region, for the US, China, Australia and New Zealand to work more closely together.

"He raised that we have worked together in the past, this is a time of tension, it doesn't have to be," she said.

She said Rabuka reiterated Fiji, and the Pacific, do not want to be forced into choices either.

When pitching his "nascent proposal" for peace in the Pacific, he explained how he could understand why people would question why a former coup leader now wants to lead the charge on peace.

"I can sense some questions arising already about why a coup-maker like me, who gained notoriety 36 years ago as a 'Rambo' figure, should be engaging in such thoughts," Rabuka told the room.

"I have repented; I am reborn. My past cannot be removed, but I can compensate to some extent for what I did.

"Now this democratic politician will do what he can to be an apostle of peace."

Dr Keen said it is good to see a leader reflecting.

This "concept of peace making" in the region is significant, she said.

"This is the first time we've really seen a strong push that Fiji should have a role in peacekeeping in West Papua," she said.

The self proclaimed "apostle of peace" and past Forum chair hopes to get other Pacific leader's onboard with a Pacific Peace Zone.

Rabuka wants to introduce a formal motion for approval by the Forum at its meeting in the Cook Islands next month.

During his visit to Australia, he met with foreign minister Penny Wong who said Rabuka has demonstrated his commitment to building a stronger and more united Pacific.

"Your early diplomatic outreach to Kiribati was critical in bringing the Forum family back together," Penny Wong said.

She said Australia believes in Pacific sovereignty with the forum leading the region 'the Pacific way' guided by the 2050 strategy.

"Now you are advancing your vision for a zone of peace to create a region characterized by peace and prosperity, not conflict and division It's a vision we share," she said.

The 52nd Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting is set down for November 6-10 in Rarotonga.