Fijian PM labels Morrison 'very insulting' after talks

Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has accused his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison of heavy-handed tactics.
Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has accused his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison of heavy-handed tactics.

SYDNEY • Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama blasted his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison after a tense Pacific summit, saying he was "very insulting" and that China offers a more welcoming brand of diplomacy.

Mr Bainimarama accused Mr Morrison of heavy-handed tactics after the Pacific Island Forum wrapped up in Tuvalu on Thursday with pro-coal Canberra 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 on Friday.

The group had hoped to issue a compelling global call to action from nations on the front line of climate change ahead of United Nations 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 Prime Minister, 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.

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

The Fijian leader added that 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."

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.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 18, 2019, with the headline 'Fijian PM labels Morrison 'very insulting' after talks'. Print Edition | Subscribe