Fiji PM labels Australia PM 'very insulting' after Pacific standoff

Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama (second from left) standing with (from left) New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Samoa's Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi and Federated States of Micronesia's President David W. Panuel
Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama (second from left) standing with (from left) New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Samoa's Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi and Federated States of Micronesia's President David W. Panuelo before the Leaders Retreat at the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) in Funafuti, Tuvalu on Aug 15, 2019.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY (AFP) - Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama blasted his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison as "very insulting", saying China offers a more welcoming brand of diplomacy following a tense Pacific summit.

Mr Bainimarama accused Mr Morrison of heavy-handed tactics after the Pacific Island Forum wrapped up in Tuvalu Thursday (Aug 15) with pro-coal Canberra sharply at odds with island nations facing the existential threat of climate change.

"The prime minister (Morrison) was very insulting, very condescending, not good for the relationship," Mr Bainimarama told the Guardian late Friday.

The group had hoped to issue a compelling global call to action from nations on the frontline of climate change ahead of UN talks in New York next month.

But after 12 hours of negotiations that descended into tears and shouting, the summit communique fell well short of expectations with language watered down at the insistence of the Australian PM, island leaders said.

Mr Morrison pledged A$500 million (S$470 million) in aid to Pacific Island nations to invest in renewable energy and climate change resilience, part of a strategy to counter China's rising influence in the region.

But leaders of the other 17 nations in the Pacific Island Forum have called on Canberra to do more to cut emissions and curb Australia's lucrative coal industry.

 
 
 

"(Morrison) at one stage, because he was apparently (backed) into a corner by the leaders, came up with how much money Australia have been giving to the Pacific," Mr Bainimarama said. "Very insulting."

The Fijian leader added there was "no competition" in the region between Australia and China, but commended Beijing's approach to diplomacy.

"They don't go down and tell the world that we've given this much money to the Pacific islands. They don't do that. They're good people, definitely better than Morrison, I can tell you that," he said.

Mr Morrison, who concedes climate change is real but insists it can be managed in a way that does not hurt the economy, has denied a rift between Pacific leaders.

"We showed up, we're stepping up, and it's getting on," he said following the negotiations that dragged into the early hours of Friday morning.

Meanwhile, Australia's deputy prime minister Michael McCormack has caused a stir after being caught on camera saying Pacific nations would weather climate change thanks to Australian aid and a programme that allows islanders to work in seasonally in Australia.

"They'll continue to survive because many of their workers come here and pick our fruit, pick our fruit grown with hard Australian enterprise and endeavour and we welcome them and we always will," he said in a video published by the Guardian.