Xi's footsteps in South Pacific region bear rich fruit of sustainable development
Published: Sep 14, 2023 07:07 PM
A beach in Suva, Fiji Photo: Shan Jie/GT

A beach in Suva, Fiji Photo: Shan Jie/GT

As a Fijian proverb goes, "A bud will give birth to millions of fruit." 

In November 2014, while holding a group meeting with leaders of Pacific Island Countries (PICs) in Fiji, Chinese President Xi Jinping quoted this saying.

China's exchanges and cooperation with the South Pacific region have borne fruits as diverse as the leader' footprints, greatly benefiting local people.

The South Pacific region covers a vast expanse, with as many as 16 countries, varying in size. Apart from Australia and New Zealand, the two developed countries, there are developing island countries such as Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

In 2014 and 2018, Xi made two visits to the South Pacific region and held meetings with leaders of PICs that have established diplomatic relations with China. Xi's visits opened new chapters in the history of China-PICs relations.

During his visit to New Zealand in November 2014, Xi first proposed that the South Pacific region is a natural extension of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road initiative put forward by China.

Following in his footsteps, the blossoms of development have truly flourished on the islands of the Pacific Ocean.

'Magic grass' trade

At the Tadra Mushroom Farm near Nadi city in Fiji, horses are leisurely grazing in a drizzle of rain. The workers here, dressed in local-style sky-blue shirts, are talking about "magic grass."

The hybrid grass, knowing as Juncao in Chinese, can be used as a substrate for mushroom production, feed for animals, windbreaks, and used to minimize soil erosion.

Juncao technology, literally meaning fungi and grass, was invented in the 1980s by Lin Zhanxi, a professor at Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University in East China's Fujian Province. The technology, which uses the grass to grow fungi, has been promoted by China around the world, aiming to help increase people's income and reduce poverty.

In Tadra, using Juncao, mushrooms that are favored by local people can easily be farmed without the need for much care. Moreover, the grass can also be used to feed the horses on the farm. The mushrooms in Tadra are some of the first mushrooms that have ever been harvested in the region.

In February 2009, Xi, then vice president of China, made a transit visit to Fiji. Upon learning that Fiji was unable to produce mushrooms locally, he recommended Juncao technology to Fijian leaders. 

In November of the same year, the two countries signed an agreement on China-aided Juncao technology, and subsequently, the China-Fiji Juncao Technology Cooperation Project was officially launched.

In November 2014, Xi visited Fiji and once again inquired about the progress of the Juncao Project. Since then, with the efforts and practices of Chinese and Fijian experts over more than eight years, the Fiji Juncao Technology Demonstration Center has become the largest Juncao technology demonstration base in the South Pacific region.

Fiji is not the only country, nor even the first one, in the South Pacific region that has benefited from Juncao technology.

In 2000, Xi, then governor of East China's Fujian Province, personally pushed for the demonstration projects for Juncao and upland rice technologies in the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea with aid from Fujian Province. 

Many years later, Xi said he was happy to learn that the project was doing well and had produced good economic and social benefits. It has become a much-relished story in China-Papua New Guinea relations.

A successful farmer told the Global Times that Juncao and mushrooms are both straightforward to cultivate and transport. They require neither fertilizers nor pesticides, and the economic returns are 20 to 30 times greater than what they used to earn from growing cabbage.

A seaside scenery seen from a building built by Chinese company in Suva, capital of Fiji Photo: Shan Jie/GT

A seaside scenery seen from a building built by Chinese company in Suva, capital of Fiji Photo: Shan Jie/GT

Deepening the bond

To have a flower, you must first plant a seed.

During Xi's group meeting with PIC leaders in November 2014, the two sides agreed to establish a strategic partnership featuring mutual respect and common development. 

The leaders of the eight island countries that had diplomatic relations with China at the time all gathered in Nadi, displaying their sincerity. 

According to media reports, the First Lady of Fiji remarked, "China is like a magnet, and when you come here, Fiji is filled with honored guests."

"The relations between China and the PICs are at a new historical starting point, and we are willing to join efforts with all the island countries to seek true friendship, conduct practical cooperation and yield win-win results, and thus together realize the dream of development, prosperity and harmony," Xi noted at the group meeting, the Xinhua News Agency reported. 

In November 2018, Xi paid a state visit to Papua New Guinea and had another group meeting with leaders of PICs having diplomatic ties with China, during which time China-PICs relations were elevated to a comprehensive strategic partnership featuring mutual respect and common development.

Afterward, more island countries joined the ranks of cooperative development with China. 

In September 2019, the Solomon Islands announced the establishment of diplomatic relations with China. 

While Prime Minister of Solomon Islands Manasseh Sogavare was in Beijing in July this year, Xi said that since the establishment of diplomatic relations, the friendly cooperation between the two countries has come from behind and has been at the forefront of China's relations with PICs, becoming a model of solidarity, cooperation, and joint development among countries of different sizes and developing countries, Xinhua reported.

"China is our good friend. China can help us achieve these development goals," Sogavare told the Global Times during his time aboard the Chinese naval hospital ship, Peace Ark, which was visiting the Solomon Islands, on August 20.

He further noted that China is a great country, and for countries like the Solomon Islands and other similar PICs, it would be "very stupid" not to increase cooperation with China and seize the development opportunities it offers.

With the assistance of China, a splendid multi-purpose sports stadium has risen in Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands. This will prepare the Solomon Islands to welcome guests from all corners when the Pacific Games open in November.

In growing friendly relations with PICs, China will stay committed to equal treatment, mutual respect, win-win cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, Xi affirmed in a meeting with Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape on November 2022.

According to a fact sheet on China-PICs cooperation published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China in May 2022, the two sides have continued to expand exchanges and cooperation in more than 20 areas, including trade, investment, ocean affairs, environmental protection, disaster prevention and mitigation, poverty alleviation, healthcare, education and tourism.

A workshop of Yashili New Zealand Dairy, a subsidiary of Yashili International Holdings Ltd and China Mengniu Dairy Co Ltd Photo: Shan Jie/GT

A workshop of Yashili New Zealand Dairy, a subsidiary of Yashili International Holdings Ltd and China Mengniu Dairy Co Ltd Photo: Shan Jie/GT

Multiple ways to collaborate

In addition to collaborating with the less-developed island countries like the Solomon Islands, China also actively seeks cooperation with developed countries in the South Pacific region, including New Zealand and Australia.

While visiting Wellington in New Zealand in November 2014, Xi told then prime minister John Key of New Zealand that China is a very large market with a population of more than 1.3 billion. New Zealand's dairy products, wool, beef and mutton, marine products and other quality products are very popular in China. 

"I hope New Zealand will earnestly guarantee the quality and safety of products exported to China so as to protect Chinese consumers' rights and interests," Xi said.

In mid-August, Global Times reporters visited New Zealand to investigate the outcomes of Xi's 2014 visit.

New Zealand is aptly known as the "land of pastures." The country's dairy industry has been at the forefront of China-New Zealand cooperation, with China being New Zealand's largest trading partner. In 2021, dairy products topped the list of New Zealand's exports to China, amounting to a staggering NZ$7.35 billion ($4.3 billion). 

Simultaneously, officials from the New Zealand Trade and Enterprise told the Global Times that the country welcomes high-quality and highly productive investments from China, including those from Chinese dairy companies.

On the other side, New Zealand has also attracted numerous Chinese dairy companies to establish a presence in the country. This practice has turned out to be mutually beneficial, boosting New Zealand's economic development while fostering the long-term growth of China's dairy industry

Analysts said that China's approach toward countries with different systems and at different development stages like Australia and New Zealand reflects its sincerity. Despite being a big country that is sometimes called jokingly a "giant," China remains committed to peaceful development, the principle of common development, and the policy of promoting Asia-Pacific cooperation and development. It also sets an example and provides guidance for other countries worldwide.

Photo: Shan Jie/GT

Photo: Shan Jie/GT

Shared future

Island countries are among the most vulnerable regions to the threat of climate change. 

China places a high priority on the unique challenges and concerns of island countries regarding climate change and has been helping these countries enhance their capacity to address it. 

China is actively engaged in cooperation with the PICs on various levels and in various ways to improve their ability to adapt to climate change and achieve high-quality development. 

Xi said during his 2014 visit to Fiji that China will support island countries dealing with climate change under the framework of South-South cooperation, provide them with materials for energy conservation and environmental protection as well as equipment for renewable energy, and carry out cooperation with them in tsunami warning, sea-level monitoring and other areas.?

China takes very seriously the PICs' special conditions and concerns on climate change, and has been committed to helping them strengthen the capacity to tackle climate change. 

For instance, in April 2022, the China-Pacific Island Countries Climate Change Cooperation Center was officially launched in East China's Shandong Province.

The center is to carry out demonstration project cooperation with PICs, share the experience in and practice of green and low-carbon development, work together to respond to the challenge of climate change and help PICs achieve sustainable development.

As of October 2022, China has allocated more than 1.2 billion yuan ($164.5 million) for South-South cooperation on climate change, signed 43 South-South cooperation documents on climate change with 38 developing countries, and trained some 2,000 officials and professional personnel specializing in climate response from over 120 developing countries, according to the Foreign Ministry of China.