Suva’s Grand Pacific hotel
© ITPhoto/Alamy Stock Photo
The alleged incident between Chinese and Taiwanese officials took place at a Taipei Trade Office reception at Suva’s Grand Pacific hotel on 8 October.
A physical altercation between Chinese and Taiwanese diplomats in Fiji has left a Taiwanese official in hospital with a head injury and again highlighted tensions between Beijing and Taipei in their struggle for influence across the Pacific.

In furious statements on Monday the rival foreign ministries accused each other's diplomats of attacking their Fiji-based staff at a reception marking Taiwan's national day on 8 October at hotel in the capital, Suva. Beijing considers Taiwan to be a part of China, and is highly sensitive to any apparent recognition of Taiwanese sovereignty by other governments, such as supporting National Day celebrations.

Taiwan's ministry of foreign affairs said two Chinese embassy officials arrived at the Grand Pacific hotel uninvited and began "harassing" and trying to photograph the guests which included Fijian ministers, foreign diplomats, NGO representatives and members of Fiji's ethnic Chinese community.

Taiwanese staff confronted the officials and a fight broke out, with one Taiwanese official injured severely enough that he required treatment at hospital for head injuries, Taiwan's ministry and multiple sources at the scene said. Police were called to the hotel but sources have told the Guardian the Chinese officials claimed diplomatic immunity.

Taiwan accused the Chinese officials of falsely telling Fijian police they had been attacked by the Taiwanese personnel and said it "strongly condemned the serious violations of the rule of law and civilised norms by the staff of the Chinese embassy in Fiji."

But in a regular press briefing in Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the reports were "completely inconsistent" with the facts and that one of its own embassy staff in Suva had been injured.

Zhao said Taiwan was attempting to cover up its misdeeds by blaming others and said it was a "thief crying 'stop thief'." In response to a question from a reporter regarding a fight between diplomats, Zhao replied: "First of all, Taiwan does not have any so-called diplomats in Fiji."


Comment: Given the absurdity of this statement, it's hard to take Zhao's statement just before very seriously.


He said the event was a "serious violation of the one-China policy" and has requested Fiji investigate after it expressed serious concerns to the government.

"The facts are that the Taiwan trade office openly held a 'national day' event and openly displayed the flag of a 'false country' and had that false country flag on a cake as well," Zhao said.


Comment: Cue the pearl clutching.


He claimed Fiji "expressed that it attaches great importance to China's concerns and will abide by the 'one China principle' and handle the incident appropriately."

An earlier statement from China's embassy in Suva, reiterated by Zhao, said the staff of the Taipei trade office in Fiji had "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".

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.

Taiwan's trade office in Suva has meanwhile lodged an official note of protest with the Fiji ministry of foreign affairs and trade, and has also requested Fiji police investigate the incident and strengthen security for Taiwanese diplomats.

Beijing-Taipei tensions being played out across the region

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 breaking off diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Taiwan retains formal relations with four Pacific countries - Nauru, Palau, the Marshall Islands, and Tuvalu - though not Fiji.

On Monday Tseng Ho-jen, Taiwan's deputy minister of foreign affairs told Taiwan's parliament he condemned the allegedly "irrational behaviour" of Beijing's overseas personnel, and 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.

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 interrupted speakers demanding to know if all guests at the talks had been "formally invited".

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.