Taiwan official in hospital after alleged 'violent attack' by Chinese diplomats in Fiji

Ben Doherty Pacific Editor, Sheldon Chanel in Suva and Helen Davidson in Taipei
·5-min read
<span>Photograph: ITPhoto/Alamy Stock Photo</span>
Photograph: ITPhoto/Alamy Stock Photo

A fight between Chinese diplomats and a Taiwanese delegate in Fiji left the Taiwanese official in hospital with a head injury, and has again highlighted tensions between Beijing and Taipei in their struggle for influence across the Pacific.

The incident took place at a Taipei Trade Office reception at Suva’s Grand Pacific Hotel on 8 October, to mark Taiwan’s national day. Two officials from the Chinese embassy in Suva allegedly arrived uninvited and tried to photograph and film those in attendance, including at least two ministers from Fiji’s government, diplomats from other countries, international and local NGOs, and members of Fiji’s ethnic Chinese community, sources at the event told the Guardian.

The pair was asked to leave by a member of Taiwan’s delegation, but according to sources, reportedly refused to do so.

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A fight broke out outside the hotel, and the Taiwanese official was injured severely enough that he required treatment at hospital for head injuries.

Police were called to the hotel, but, sources at the scene have told the Guardian, the Chinese officials claimed diplomatic immunity.

China’s embassy in Suva later issued a statement saying the allegations were “completely inconsistent with the facts and are purely invented”.

“The staff of the Taipei trade office in Fiji acted provocatively against the Chinese embassy staff who were carrying out their official duties in the public area outside the function venue, causing injuries and damage to one Chinese diplomat,” it said.

“We have expressed our serious concerns to the Fijian side…, requesting the police force of Fiji to carry out thorough investigation into the incidents and hold the perpetrators accountable according to law.”

It also said Taiwan’s national day event was illegitimate and the function was a “serious violation of the one-China principle”.

Several sources who were at the event confirmed the altercation occurred, and the Guardian has been told Taiwan’s trade office in Suva has lodged an official note of protest with the Fiji ministry of foreign affairs and trade.

A spokeswoman for the Fiji police said a complaint had been lodged by the Chinese embassy against a Taiwanese official, alleging Chinese diplomats were assaulted when they tried to enter the venue.

On Monday Tseng Ho-jen, Taiwan’s deputy minister of foreign affairs told Taiwan’s parliament, the Legislative Yuan, that Taipei’s Fiji office had reported two Chinese diplomats came to the event and looked around before leaving, and then returned, yelling and “almost breaking the door”. Foreign office staff intervened and a physical confrontation occurred.

Condemning the allegedly “irrational behaviour” of Beijing’s overseas personnel, Tseng said it was “extremely regrettable” that the Chinese staff had disrupted their “peaceful” event.

Taiwanese legislator and member of the ruling Democratic Progressive party, Wang Ting-yu, said he was “appalled and outraged”.

“We can’t let China bully its way into doing whatever it wants,” Wang, who is also co-chair of the foreign affairs and defence committee, said. “Our diplomats in Fiji have my full support.”

Larry Tseng, the head of the ministry’s East Asia and Pacific affairs department, said he believed the Chinese were trying to work out whether any Fijian politicians were present at the event.

There were injuries on both sides in the “pushing and shoving” that took place between the Chinese and Taiwanese diplomats, he added.

The altercation is a microcosm of Beijing-Taipei tensions being played out across the region, and the world.

The Pacific was formally a bastion of support for Taiwan, but since 2019, Beijing has managed to “flip” both Solomon Islands and Kiribati into offering formal recognition and diplomatic relations. Taiwan retains formal relations with four Pacific countries - Nauru, Palau, the Marshall Islands, and Tuvalu - though not Fiji.

China regards Taiwan as one of its provinces, with no right to full ties with any foreign countries.

The deepening tensions between Taipei and Beijing have erupted previously at Pacific fora. In 2017, a meeting of the Kimberley Process - dealing with trade in conflict diamonds - hosted by the Australian foreign minister in Perth had to be suspended when members of the Chinese delegation shouted over a welcome to country ceremony and interrupted speakers demanding to know if all guests at the talks had been “formally invited”.

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A Taiwanese delegation who had been invited to the meeting was then ejected at the insistence of the Chinese delegates.

And in 2018, the president of Nauru, hosting the Pacific Islands Forum, said a Chinese envoy to the forum was “insolent” and a “bully” for demanding to speak out of turn during a leaders’ meeting.

The acrimonious Suva event this month was hosted by Taiwan’s representative, Jessica Lee, to highlight Fijian and Taiwanese cooperation in agriculture, fisheries, education and medicine over five decades.

Two Fijian government ministers, fisheries minister Semi Koroilavesau, and assistant youth and sports minister Alipate Nagata, along with opposition leader Sitiveni Rabuka, a number of opposition MPs and prominent business people attended the event.

It is rare to see government ministers at Taiwanese events because of Fiji’s close diplomatic ties with China, whose investment in the country amounted to US$1.08bn over the last five years.

This figure dwarfs Taiwan’s contribution, although Taipei is regarded as an unofficial partner largely working with grassroots communities and private sector organisations in the country.

With Reuters