Trouble in Fijian paradise
Stories about the Chinese influence in the Pacific usually concern China's 'Belt and Road Initiative' - construction of commercial infrastructure such as ports proposed in PNG, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu, or the Chinese leasing Darwin Harbour.
Yet that's not the full story. With the soaring number of Chinese middle-class, tourism in the Pacific is also booming.
Recently, a Chinese-owned company called Freesoul began building what would be Fiji's biggest resort. In 2018, they secured the rights to a parcel of land on Malolo Island, west of Tavarua and Namotu Islands, and began construction of 370 bures and Fiji's first casino.
The land wasn't ideal for their intended use so they began augmenting it to fit their needs: excavating a channel through the reef; reclaiming the mangroves; and felling the trees.
Freesoul had no approval to conduct the works, so the owners of the land next door, Woody Jack and Navrin Fox from Yamba, plus a third owner Ratu Jona Joseva from Fiji, campaigned against Freesoul's insousciance. Freesoul repeatedly skirted Fijian law as none of the work had Environmental Impact or Development approvals, and they subsequently ignored two court orders to stop the destruction.
Before and after (photos supplied)
Navrin Fox and his fellow land-owners accused them of running roughshod over Fijian environmental law, permits, the environment, and the island locals.
After a year of feeble protesting, the story was picked up by Newsroom New Zealand who've produced a number of stories and a video. In the process, Newsroom employees were detained by Fijian police for criminal trespass. The employees, however, weren't tresspassing, they were on land that belongs to Fox, Jack, and Joseva, but had been annexed by Freesoul. They've since received an apology from Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.
Nav wrestles with a Freesoul flunky. Image from video below.
It's a story that goes all the way to the top. It can also be read as a portent of what's to come as China exerts its influence across the region.
Read Part 1 (of a three-part series):
Surfers who helped stop an environmental disaster (story and video)
Parts 2 and 3, focussing on the local's plight, will be released later this week.